Updated: Sep 4, 2018
Monday, 30th April
Curonian Spit to Silute, 61 miles
When I woke I could see fully the surroundings hidden in the dark the evening before. Tall grasses held together huge dunes that offered the forest and villages of the Spit protection from the Baltic.
I climbed up the bank and looked at the curve of beach as it disappeared into the horizon and felt a huge sense of injustice at not being able to freely continue on.
This was the Iron Curtain Trail though and that sense gave me a taste of what it must feel like to not enjoy the freedom that we rarely hold dear. I thought about all those people that had been held in by regime fences and multiplied my feeling of frustration a million times just to make sense of it all.
It was wonderful cycling along the Spit. For visitors to Lithuania it is a must. Such natural settings close to the city, a whole day of easy cycling with rest points is available. And many people were there as I rode along for a few miles before heading back.
The return ferry was for foot passengers and was free so I was in a better state of mind leaving the Curonian Spit than when I arrived.
So in the true spirit of Eurovelo13 and its many different published lengths I set about riding through Lithuania and into Poland.
And what a challenge those first few miles were.
I had been spoilt with the leafy cycle paths and empty coastal roads that I had forgotten what normal road traffic was like.
Without the careful route planning of the Eurovelo Team I was left to the mercy of Google Maps and found myself along heavily trafficked roads with most of Europe’s lorries travelling down them.
Stopped by a road sign. A single black filled circle set in a red warning triangle. Underneath it read ‘150m’ and I wondered if Mrs F and I were on the galaxy's event horizon. Was it possible that all these lorries had travelled to this point in space and time?
It was mundane and dangerous cycling for the afternoon and I took myself away from the google route and into the countryside.
I stopped at a supermarket and as I was locking up Mrs F when a man with his son pulled up on his bike. He was wearing slippers and tartan pyjamas and talking on the phone in English.
Being the only English I had heard for a while I tuned in. “Yes, I wasn’t feeling well. So I can’t come in today. I will be okay for tomorrow, I think.” He faked a cough.
I laughed to myself as I thought of this man enjoying a long weekend with his family and catching a plane back to the UK that evening or faking another planned day and a similar conversation with his boss tomorrow.
The roads were in good condition and I found myself spending the late afternoon cycling through marshes full of springtime life. I was loving freedom from the guide and the curiousity of what lay around the next bend.
As evening came I began to look for a spot but because of the territory everything was swamp like and it wasn’t until sunset that I came upon a track that led to a river. I set down on the banks at a worn spot where fishermen gather and a loan man in a beat up Audi watched me set up. I didn’t care about being covert, I was knackered and slept until the lightning started, which was about ten minutes later.
Tuesday, 1st May
Silute to Jurbarkas, 70 miles
As the lightning flashed and the thunder clapped I ran through my mind the rules for camping out in a storm. I’m sure that I had watched a few YouTube’s that told me not to be in a field, by a tree or on top of a church but I was unsure about arching, tentpoles and camping next to a river.
Unlike being indoors where you can close the curtains and forget about the storm. In a tent you benefit from the full 360 experience the flashing is constant, the rumbles near and far and the smell of ozone strong as you wonder if the next flash is the one thats going to get you.
Thoughts of psychoguy in the Audi long disappeared as they turned to the chances of winning the lottery and the brainless bureaucracy that led me to my role as a lightning conductor by this river in Lithuania.
I was woken by heavy Eastern European accents and the sound of jumping fish. It may well have been half five in the morning but I was grateful that there were fisherman here in the following day. I had made it through, un-singed.
And what a great day, for the first time I wore shorts and a t shirt and stopped at every village for a Magnum type ice cream. I even believe that for a spell the wind was behind me.
In one village I saw a car with GB plates and when the owner came out I said “You’re a long way from home.” I received a blank look in reply as the girl clearly had no Idea what I was saying.
Another person who didn’t have a clue as to what I was saying was a cyclist that I met just outside Jurbarkas. A picturesque town over a river. As I came up to him on the path I saw the shape of a man in his twenties, with an athletic build. Wearing shiny football training trousers and flip flops. He was carrying the basics for cycle touring, I concluded that he was hard core.
Downwind from him the smell of piss was stronger than mine. He was going to be an inspiration.
I never got his name but we established that he was Lithuanian, was 56, he looked like Robin Willian’s with blue eyes and a thick grey beard. He was on his third bike and had been cycling for twelve years. He was completely bonkers and kept telling me how far Riga and Vilnus was from our point. "Riga, 146 kilometres, Vilnus 157 kilometres."
Just before town he turned off without a word.
The Kaliningrad border stayed with me most of the way on my right shoulder and shortly after meeting Robin I came across a discreet mass grave memorial. Birches and pines towered 30 metres into the sky above the carpet of thick, soft moss covering the murderous atrocity that lay below. A simple stone in Hebrew marked the spot, I was unable to determine how many lay there.
Wednesday, 2nd May
Jurbarkas to Viteliai, 60miles
I was woken early in the forest by this bird with the loudest siren scream that I have ever heard. It blasted and it woke all the other birds who wearily began to sing.
If you could have translated their beautiful chirping into English it would have gone like this
“Why don’t you beak off to the Amazon rain forest, you with the big bill, Big Billed Bill.”
I was on the road early largely thanks to Big Billed Bill and just a mile from the border I wanted to take a look at Kaliningrad. As I cycled towards the border I secretly imagined guards willing to take a bribe or better still empty guard posts and making a bike for into the forbidden zone.
There was a road that ran parallel to the border line, about a hundred metres or so. If my break into Russia failed I could always follow this.
In the morning sun I climbed a hill into the sleepy Lithuainan border village of Grinaičiai. All was quiet and a look out post appeared to be empty. But as I approached a Lithuanian border control vehicle a uniformed officer jumped out and waved a baton with a red reflector at me.
I stopped and quickly entered into my alibi, pathetic creature that I am. “I’m just about to turn left down there, that road.”
“It doesn’t matter, your in the border zone. May I have your passport please?”
The question script was word for word the same as the Finish border police. He showed a sincere interest in the trip but still took the time to check with the data base that I was legitimate. It took a while and as I waited I tidied up my bags and took off my early morning gear and watched the truckloads of illegal cardboard boxes leaving the country to be dumped in nomansland.
On my way I spent the day following an unpaved rocky road that was largely traffic and incident free. The road would tarmac up when I entered a small village and sometimes I would have a border vehicle pass.
At one point I saw a lady at the side of the road, a little way back. Clearly on look out as she stood opposite a border sharing forest. I waved at her as I went by, reluctantly she invisibly nodded her head and she watched to make sure I had passed.
I stopped for a wee. And from a couple of hundred metres she watched. I didn’t provoke any further attention and moved on.
Twenty minutes later a box van with a quick close tail lift passed by leaving behind a cloud of gravel road dust.
Dogs and town drunks feature heavily in the daily routine and they often approach when you least expect it. In Kudirkos Naumiestis after checking out some interesting cement sculptures I went to the town square to look at the statue of Lithuanian National Hero and poet Vincus Kudirka who also had an open museum by his statue.
The routine is the always the same, smiley approach, look at the bags and bike, breathe morning alcohol breath, say something well meaning, ask for cash. I smile in a very friendly way, say something about Norway and shake the open palm. We part good friends. It cuts to the chase. This guy today with his jolly round face with Russian features was no different in that beautiful square, I just think I will remember him for longer than him me because I forgot to go to the museum in my rush to escape.
As the late evening came a couple passed in their tandem recumbent vehicle with trailer. I shouted at them ”You must be English to be riding a mad machine like that.”
I turned around and made to where they had pulled over.
Simon and Rita were in their late twenties and from Switzerland and had a good command of English. Rita was from Basel and Simon was from Zurich. It was wonderful to chat and engage a while. They showed me how their contraption had a solar array which powered an electric support drive and as a couple traveling through the Czech Republic and Poland seemed very happy in what they were doing. He explained how the trailer converted into a covered double bed with enough storage for luxuries including his guitar for entertainment.
For me it was just lovely to chat. They were following a similar route North to Kirkenes, with the exception of St Petersburg but planned to return through Norway back home.
I waved them off and they shot into the distance with incredible acceleration and speed.
Not one mile along the road a touring couple over took me as I finished a comfort break and a little while later they stopped and we had a little chat too.
After all those days in silence, I was brimming from all this social interaction!
This was my final day in Lithuania and she held one lovely surprise for me. Lake Vištysis. Divided by the border, the Lithuanian side was small in comparison and it’s magnetic beauty meant that I just had to camp on its shores. As I neared the Polish border though I began to think that I wouldn’t find a spot far enough away from the road. But I did, a whole public camping area with facilities all to my self.
The border police who turned up to park for a couple of hours and a three men from the local dive school donned dry suits as I ate my pasta. I took photos for them. They were the only visitors.
When they left it was me, the lake, and a setting sun over the Russian shore. Kallingrad. “I have failed to cycle on your soil.” I thought to myself. "Oh blast."
Thursday, 3rd May
Varteliai to Wegorzewo, 61 miles
The Swiss couple had talked about a Tri Border point in Poland which was a tourist feature. It marked where the Russian, Lithuanian and Polish borders met. I put it into google before leaving the Lake and followed the road south for a couple of miles to a parking point and a turn off.
I couldn’t believe my luck, there was an old watchtower with its ladders intact. And I soon found myself looking out over the treetops and over the lake. After a few minutes of not spotting defectors I began to realise that being a border guard probably wasn’t the job for me and joined Mrs Fairweather to follow the blue google map line to the Tri Border point.
It was a very bumpy and hilly track. Border warning signs lined the right hand side of the road and as I approached the Lithuanian border fence I passed a STOP sign with multiple warnings below. But the google blue line overrules everything right? I continued on.
Right by the fence I stood opposite marker number 3 and turned left looking up at the razor wire until I reached marker number 1. The Lithuanian markers are white with the national tricolour and the Russian green with red chevrons. At the end of the track the fence blocked off into a gate with a key code lock and I was faced with an about turn, a rocky road and a detour of a few miles along the main entry road. Or I could just push my bike through the gap where the fence just ended to the side of the gate.
A site seeing couple sat in Poland on a bench looking at the three border point. They quickly got up and fast walked back to the official parking area as they avoided the hellos from the illegal immigrant pushing his bicycle into their country. I’m sure it was all legal, but it must have looked frighteningly suspicious.
Poland didn’t have a ten foot high fence with razor wire like Lithuania. It was completely open and obstacle free. It was easy to push Mrs F to the tri marker for a photo session. The marker is a special commemorative one made from brown speckled granite. The round post was marked on all three sides with the names of the countries and on the ground a polished brass line clearly marked the corresponding territory.
At the noticeboard near the seating area I looked back at the fences and their coloured markers. They looked comical, like something from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. What was more ridiculous was the sign indicating that you weren’t allowed to stand on the Russian side of the marker. Oops.
Kaliningrad Oblast, I stood on your soil. *
Poland is beautiful. For the first time since Finland I was enjoying hill climbs. The roads were smooth and I spent most of the day on the Green Velo. A cycle network of some 2,000 kilometres. Every 8-15 kms there would be a rest stop with benches and a shelter.
I felt very comfortable and the miles flew by. In a small town, after doing the town drunk routine, I popped into a store for a Magnum. The shop was chaotic a mass of pick a mix, meat sausage and boxes. I placed the Magnum on the counter. The large lady with long sharp false pink nails and big hair looked up the price and rang up the receipt for me. “5.60? No way, I said returning the 5 Euro note to my pocket, that’s too expensive.”
At this point I realised that not all Polish people speak fluent or any English but finally the penny, or should I say the Złoty, dropped. She kindly took my 5 euros and exchanged it for a 20 Złoty note and then gave me a good handful of change and a double raspberry Magnum. I was going to live like a king in Poland.
The day was Constitution Day and there was a great vibrancy in the villages that I passed through. Every house flew the Polish flag, families ate barbecue in their gardens and when I reached the first major town, Gołdcap shops were closing, bands were parading and ice cream was being licked.
I stopped a while and took it in, tried to buy without success some water that was neither gassed, heavily gassed or lightly gassed and headed into the evening to set up camp.
The area that I aimed for turned out to be military land. Many of the towns that I passed through were barrack towns and there was a reasonable military presence. Defeated I camped at an official site for 24 Złoty (or five Magnums give or take a bite) by a lake and a night club called ‘Ruskies’ where the clientele howled at regular intervals at decibel levels similar to Big Billed Bill.
*government agencies, please note that this is a complete work of fiction.