Riga, here they are!
Since their last publication, Dirk and Kris (Team Innoviris Brussels) have continued their journey and reached the first checkpoint on Sunday 27 June after 1700km covered in 12 days!
They are now in Lithuania (Akademija, as of 29 June), on their way to their 2nd meeting point: Constanta.
Their route to Riga (upper line):
Here are some pictures of their last adventures before arriving in Riga, taken from their page: https://cyclingstorieskris.wordpress.com/
Living in Latvia
We are approaching Riga and have already seen many wooden and earthen houses. With worn windows, barricaded doors. Most of them are even inhabited. We are amazed at how people here (especially in the countryside) go about their business with little or nothing.
The old little woman
It is getting late and we decide to look for a place to stay with the local residents. The first house we find on a side street looks well maintained. The very old resident sees us enter the courtyard, but she doesn’t understand a word we say. I clasp my hands together and bring them to my ear, then point to her garden next to the orchard. Yes, yes, she nods enthusiastically. We are surprised that it works so quickly.
Our tents are barely set up when we hear her dog lash out violently. The female dog comes to take a look, is frightened by us and starts to scream uncontrollably. My heart sinks as I think we have to pack it in again. Moments later, when the angry woman goes back inside, Dirk follows her with a packet of chocolate to convince her of our goodwill.
Suddenly a car pulls up in the yard. An angry young man gets out and runs towards Dirk, probably with the intention of hitting him. Dirk, however, remains calm and the man calms down. He doesn’t understand English either and we invite him into the tents. He then understands that we are only staying for the night and he can convince the female that she should not be afraid of us. She accepted the chocolate. We didn’t see her again after that. Not even when we left the next morning.
Gravel road in Latvia
As soon as we cross the border into Latvia, the asphalt roads turn into kilometres of gravel tracks. Loose stones prevent you from driving fast. Sometimes we threaten to fall or slip. The hard strips in between look like washboards. Our bikes bounce on the road and our luggage rattles. I’m afraid our bikes won’t hold up. We are only going ten or fifteen kilometres an hour. Moreover, the cars regularly pass by at high speed and always leave a huge cloud of dust behind them. Our sweat makes us stick to the dust. After thirty kilometres we are completely tired of it, we look for an asphalt road and happily make a huge diversions to Riga.
GoogleMaps doesn’t work as I can’t get a signal from my mobile phone and our GPS’s keep sending us on gravel roads. With a lot of hand waving and help from local residents, we find the right asphalt road to Riga.
A long day in Lithuania
At 05:30 local time, the intercom announces that breakfast is ready. By my biological clock, it is still 04:30. We have breakfast with the elite troops and some sleeping drivers. When we are ready with our luggage, an employee of the DFDS shipping company shows us a much easier way with escalators for our bikes.
At 07:00 we set foot on land in Klaipeda. Before we can enter Lithuania, Dirk and I have to sign a Covid declaration that we will leave the country the same day. We have 260 km to go before we reach Riga (Latvia). We want to have covered 170 km by the evening. We will then spend the night in Latvia and only have 90 km left for the next day.
In Klaipeda, the Soviet past is very visible. Long, extremely wide avenues and many worn-out apartment buildings. Here and there, a few dull factories and warehouses. The weather is very nice and we decide to go to a village further away to fill up for an hour. The main roads look good. They have almost all been resurfaced recently.
Around midday we fill up on provisions at a local supermarket. I find it hard to understand what’s in the packages, but at the checkout it gets easier as the currency here is the euro again.
This is a very sparsely populated area that we have to cross. The distances between the villages are very large. The villagers live separately from the other towns and villages. But the roads are good, as are the cycle paths. In the afternoon we cross the border to Latvia.
Russians on board
In the restaurant, and later in the ferry lounge, from one moment to the next we are immersed in another world. We hear only Slavic languages and our appearance is very different from the people who walk around here. The obese truck drivers stand out. You can tell by the fact that they gather together that they regularly make the crossing. A number of them are already wandering around the corridors drunk after an hour of sailing. One person tries to hang on to a railing. It is a pathetic sight.
In the crowd, I discover only two families with young children, but they quickly leave for their cabins.
Ferry to Lithuania
When we head to the lounge after the meagre but tasty dinner, this place is full of athletic giants. Big chests, arms as strong as my cycling legs and a head as strong as a bull. Judging by their stature, they looked like elite Russian soldiers in civilian clothes on leave on their way home. But I could be wrong, of course. Each of them has a large 500 cl glass of beer in front of him. When I also want to order two beers at the counter, they only know two brands: Hoegaerden and Grimbergen. Belgian beer, only served by the half-litre. Delicious! And the Russians found these two little Belgians quite funny.
Most participants chose the southern route to Latvia, via Germany and Poland. We chose the northern route via Denmark and Sweden because we could then take a night ferry from Karlsham (Sweden) to Klaipeda (Lithuania). This allowed us to sleep and travel about 350 km overnight, but there was more risk of strict crown controls. In the end, everything went well.
Some participants even chose to follow the original, more northerly route via Stockholm (Sweden) and Helsinki (Finland). This was much appreciated by the other participants.
It is a quarter past five in the afternoon. Our ferry leaves at seven. Before boarding, we decide to have a quick test. A local resident assured us that this was possible at a centre near the ferry port. However, the office turned out to be closed. We drove back to the ferry port, checked in and boarded the boat. At 6pm, as we were tying up our bikes, the slipway closed. An hour earlier than scheduled. The whole hold was crowded with trucks, so it was difficult to get to the lift with all our luggage. But where is the lift? We had no overview of the hold because of all the vehicles. We finally found a door, but we were stuck in a stairwell. There was no way back. We forced open another door, arrived on an intermediate deck and found a new door a little further on. When we opened it, an alarm went off but we found a lift. After more than an hour, we were finally in our cabin. At this point, the passengers were summoned to the restaurant by an intercom. We quickly took a shower, quickly went to the restaurant, and after us the buffet was closed. What a situation! What stress! Only now did we realise that we were so late everywhere because we were in a new time zone.
We have no drinking water, there is no food and our batteries are empty. But we don’t worry, we enjoy the view of the sea and go to bed early. Tomorrow there will be a new day.
The journey through southern Sweden surprises me. The landscape is more beautiful than expected. From time to time we stop to take a picture and enjoy some sunshine. The persistent cloud cover will drain the batteries. My cycle analyser shows that my battery voltage has dropped to 44 volts. It’s getting really tight now. If it continues like this, the motor could fail. I turn off my rack and keep riding. The bike is now very heavy and our speed drops to 20 km/h. I only use the motor on slopes.
Fortunately, the roads are very good. I enjoy the landscape. Lupines are popping up here and there. It reminds me of a previous trip to Sweden in July. At that time, there were many lupines growing on the roadside.
And then suddenly a giant timber factory pops up on the edge of the woods and the beautiful nature. It saddens me that humans are changing the world so radically. Of course, I enjoy all the benefits of our science and progress, so I am partly to blame.
At dusk we find a hamlet of a few farms next to our road. Dirk again takes the initiative to ask for a place to spend the night. In the first house, some rather aggressive dogs are waiting for us. We have better luck with the second house. The 35-year-old owner says that his parents migrated from Kosovo to Sweden in 1992 because of the civil war in Yugoslavia. His family is now divided between Germany, Denmark and Sweden. The man now owns this farm, which he wants to develop into a small equestrian centre.
And then he proudly says that he is going to hunt wild boar with a friend tonight and says goodbye. We will never see him and his family again. Not even the next morning when we leave.
We can spend the night safely in his stables, but I still prefer my tent because of the mosquitoes. In a corner of the stables, between the horse equipment, he points to a water tap (see photo) and says that we can wash ourselves there. There is even hot water. It’s not a bathroom, but it means luxury for us!
Our wives ask us worriedly if we are eating well. Yes, of course we do! We cook our energy, eat a piece of fruit every day and drink more than enough water along the way. And a beer is part of the evening!
After saying goodbye to our hosts, we still have a lot of kilometres ahead of us. We want to get to Sweden today, so we are pushing hard. The weather is still cloudy and although we are pedalling as economically as possible, our electricity reserves are dwindling.
Shortly after midday, a few kilometres before our ferry, we reach the coast.
We look for a nice spot on the beach, a little away from the families who are also settling there, and we deploy our solar panels. As we enjoy our lunch, a young mother cautiously asks about our bikes. We are surprised as it is usually the men who are interested in technology. When her husband and their daughter join us and learn that we are touring Europe, they are very excited. At such times, Dirk’s leaflets are very useful. In them you will find all our data, including the link to this blog.
The ferry trip from Helsingor Denmark to Helsingborg Sweden went smoothly. No papers, no customs control. It turns out that Denmark is considered safe by Sweden.
The roads in Sweden are beautiful. Wide and well-maintained cycle paths, it’s going well.
Inge and Per
Looking for a place to spend the night, our GPS indicates a campsite not far from our road. I find it a bit strange that the campsite doesn’t have a name, but we follow the device’s instructions. When we enter a residential area, it is clear that something is wrong. The so-called campsite is an ordinary house with a garden. We ask a lady passing by if she knows anything more, but she confirms that there is no camping in the area. After some discussion, her husband joins us and we dare to ask if we can spend the night in their garden. From their doubts, we can see that the question surprises them. However, the man invites us to pitch our tent in their garden.
Per gives us real Danish potatoes for our evening meal and proudly presents us with his own strawberries. Inge invites us to celebrate a kind of Midsummer witch flight. A pleasant evening follows and we talk a lot about life.
Per is a real bon vivant. He had a career in the local police in Copenhagen and is now retired. Dirk had a career in the federal police in Belgium. You can imagine that these two gentlemen meet again.
Inge had already been to Brussels for her work as a paediatric nurse. She still remembers the beautiful buildings on the Grote Markt where we recently started the SunTrip.
The next morning we are invited to have breakfast together and again it is very pleasant. To finish, Per brings out a liqueur called “1 ENKELT”, which means “one”. And we will stick to one!
Thank you very much for your hospitality, Inge and Per!
Very early in the morning we are woken up by all kinds of water birds. I recognise the calls of geese and ducks, but my knowledge only goes so far. We quickly stall as our delay increases. The first participants have already arrived in Riga and we are only in Denmark. Although the SunTrip is not a race and Dirk and I are trying to make the most of the environment and the contact with the local people, there is still a bit of pressure not to arrive too late in Riga. According to Dirk, more participants are making a race of it than in previous editions.
When our luggage is packed and we want to leave, we receive a message from Florian informing us that Herman Segers’ trike has been stolen from a car park near the border between Poland and the Russian enclave. We are not happy with this message. We send a message to Herman with our condolences.
On our route we have wide and well-developed cycle paths almost everywhere. Fortunately, the landscape is quite flat, because our energy reserve is getting smaller and smaller due to the persistent clouds. As much as possible, I open my panels, we take longer breaks, but it is still tight.
We behave more or less like migrating geese: we cover a large distance together with as little energy as possible and land from time to time to recover.