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  • Jamie Shannon

Continuing through The Baltics: Latvia

After crossing the border, I stopped at the first village I came to and got all of five euros out of a cash machine. I really am trying to stick to a strict budget! I spent more than I had intended to in Tallinn thus I was trying to make up for it now. Besides, I had enough food to last three days thus I only needed about 50 cents for some petrol. I’m loving the prices here!

The sun was scorching throughout the day and I could feel my arms burning too. This was not good and I needed some sun cream and fast.

As I approached Riga later in the day, the road widened and two lanes became four. The trucks increased in number and before I knew it, huge convoys were zooming past, eight or ten at a time. It was just a little unnerving. Cars are no problem whatsoever but the trucks just made life such a misery.

I pulled off the highway into a petrol station to get some water as I hadn’t been passing through any towns at all. I indicated with my usual sign language what I needed but the lady seemed a little reluctant in answering for some reason. After a brief moment, she took the bottle from me and disappeared into the back. I thought at that moment that perhaps it was a family run gas station. Due to this, I thought it might be nice to actually buy something as a way of thanks and so I picked up some filters and papers even though I didn’t really need them. It’s nice to be nice I thought. Having bought them, the lady returned and I was on my way. A little later I stopped to sit down and take a breather and when I came to drink the water it looked green and tasted like it had been lifted from the toilet. I immediately threw it way and was now angry I had actually bought something. Fuckers.

At that point, I got off the motorway and disappeared down a small road to a town marked on my map where I found a cemetery and thought that maybe I could fill up there. Alas it was not to be. At that moment, I was startled by a little old lady walking up behind me whom told me that the well there was not safe to drink from. Upon asking from where I could get some fresh water she decided it was best to walk me to the centre of the village in order to show me.

It was strange walking through the cemetery. Not because I was walking through it with an old lady I didn’t know; That’s getting to be quite normal. It was strange because I remarked why some of the graves had no markers to speak of. She replied they had been too poor to afford one. Isn’t life shitty eh?

Well we got to the village centre and I found a public water tap next to the beachfront which was positively buzzing with activity. I suppose winters are long and hard here which makes the summer all the more precious perhaps.

I was only about twenty km’s from Riga, and as the hour was getting late I decided to camp. I followed a smaller road out of the village and along the coast and rolled my bike into the forest and through some motorbike/mountain bike tracks to a lovely secluded and most importantly flat area. Perfect for a night’s sleep.

I was excited waking up today as I would be entering the capital Riga, yay! I was again on my way fairly early and after a few km’s, re-joined the motorway again. I had a wide shoulder to cycle on and so it wasn’t so bad.

I stopped off at a supermarket along the way which necessitated a short climb over a bridge, which to be honest was my first real climb since I had left Tallinn. I bought two apples, a loaf of bread, two tomato’s, a litre of beer and a small bottle of coke. Want to know how much it cost me? No? Of course you do! 2 euros and 11 cents. Yes that’s right folks. Welcome to Latvia. Now this I like.

The good times were not to last however. A little later I received my first puncture of the trip which isn’t so bad seeing as I had come from England.

On the outskirts of Riga, the road did indeed turn into a full blown motorway but there was a cycle path that ran alongside it. This disappeared soon afterwards though which meant a hairy few minutes cycling into the outer soviet decorated suburbs.

It didn’t look like things had changed much in these parts; old soviet apartment building rose up all around me, the wide boulevards cracked and creaked their way through the city whilst these cute old trams criss crossed the streets. I actually rather liked it.

I was in two minds about whether or not to stay in the city for at least a couple of hours but I thought that, unless I actually spent the night here, I just couldn’t do it justice. I also knew that I would be back in these parts in the future and so I thought I would just cycle around the city on the large roads and leave the sightseeing to another time when I could appreciate it more.

Why do I always get lost in cities? This is the downside of using paper maps I guess

All was going well. There were a good amount of signs corresponding to my map and it was fairly easy to get around the city. There was lots and lots of traffic but this just made the cycle touring even more fun. Probably a strange thing to say but I do enjoy cycling as if I were a car, hopping in and out of the different lanes when I need to. Perhaps that’s a bit sad though.

Things were going great until I tried to exit the city properly. I just came to a wall of bridges, tunnels and traffic. I didn’t know which way to turn. There was one huge and busy road that crossed a bridge over the main railway line but I couldn’t see any other way around it. After cycling around and without getting anywhere, I decided I just had to cycle over it. I just hoped to hell it didn’t turn into a full blown motorway on the other side.

My god, it was hair razing going over it. I came out the other side into a series of roundabouts and, realizing it was indeed turning into a motorway got off there as fast as I could.

I cycled down another road and crossed over where eventually I found a cycle path that ran alongside the motorway and over the river which just provided amazing views across the city. It really did look lovely with all the church spires poking out in the distance and I vowed to return.

After that, I found myself being carried back into the city on the bike path and so looked for an alternative route which didn’t materialise. I tried asking people but my Latvian wasn’t up to the job. Eventually, I just thought I would have to do it and so put on my helmet and hi vis and found an entry point where I held my breath and cycled on into the traffic.

There are no ‘real’ motorways in the Baltic's and so the main roads are often motorways in all but name. You are in fact allowed to cycle them, they’re just not very pleasant places to be that’s all.

Luckily, the shoulder was wide and I had a can of coke to look forward to. I have my small pleasures.

I stopped a little later to eat lunch and relax a little in a park. I needed to rest having been cycling hard now since leaving Tallinn. With my sandwiches wolfed down and my coke quickly emptied, I was again on my way down one of the toughest and scariest stretches of road I think I have ever cycled. It was just truly horrendous and bloody hot too.

I had no choice but to just cycle on as there were no other roads to choose from. That’s the other thing about the Baltic countries; Its either use the main highways or small back roads which actually don’t really take you anywhere very fast and can often turn into gravel for long stretches.

It was a difficult afternoon to say the least. The trucks would just not let up, and with no shoulder to speak of, I had to constantly check in my mirror for oncoming Lorries which came in convoys of six or seven at a time. These would would force me off the road again and again in order to get out of their way.

I made slow progress like this for the remainder of the afternoon until I eventually came to a small town called Banuas which marked the end point of my time on that dreadful road and a new high point of the day as it was time to cross over into Lithuania! I pulled into a large supermarket to pick up some small items and a beer which I felt was a nice way to finish off the day once I had reached the border.

I found some back roads that led in the direction I needed to go but these were horrible for another reason; they were completely pot holed and very difficult to cycle on. at least after eight hours in the saddle so to speak. My ass was hurting like crazy and every small bump in the road sent pain searing through my butt. It was around this time that I drank the beer. Small pleasures and all.

After the last village on my map, and five km’s away from the border the last bit of ‘road’ turned into gravel and this was even more difficult to cycle on. Could they not just pave this part to Lithuania? I mean you’re practically brothers!

I finally made it to the border at around eight and was so thoroughly shattered that I decided it was time to camp there and then. There was a forest right there but upon seeing it was infested with flies and mosquitoes, I decided to just sleep on an area of grass by the side of the road. I hadn’t seen a car in like two hours and it would be dark soon and thus my presence would surely not be noticed. I hoped.

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