Cycling towards Siberia vol. 2/3 (with no intention to reach there)

Druhý díl ságy o Paulieho neuvěřitelné cestě na kole pro dobrou věc směr Sibiř.
Second part of Paulie`s unbelievable charitable journey towards Siberia.
"Standing in a queue with the cars, I slowly proceeded to the first counter. I filled out some papers, went to the next one, handed in the papers, and still there were two more counters at least. I answered all the questions and even though my intentions were just to cycle through, I got the feeling that I'm a criminal for real."

První část Paulieho Sibiřského dobrodružství naleznete zde.
First part of Paulie's adventure can be found here.

Pavel Drastik - bike siberia Pavel Drastik - bike siberia henrike

An officer lifting the last gate grinned at me and said in a dubious tone: Welcome to Russia! “Oh my god, what should I expect” rushed through my mind when I pushed into the pedals. If I hadn't really liked Poland, there was no way I would like Russia. The reminders of soviet era were still clear, not much had changed since. The villages were often gloomy and sad, many buildings had fallen into disrepair, the roads were of a poor quality and many cars as well. I was wondering how come they make the technical control, probably they didn't even have too. The drivers seemed to be passing me at increasingly smaller distances, almost touching the panniers. I was feeling vulnerable and getting mad. After some kilometers I pulled out the reflexive vest and switched on the back blink light to improve my safety. The evening grew closer and I had to figure out where to spend a night. I was on the outskirts of Kaliningrad, camping was not high on my wish list and I comforted myself with finding a motel. Without a map and knowledge of Russian language I hoped to bump into one as I cycled. That didn't happen. I was worn out and getting desperate, most of my attempts to speak with the locals were simply rejected with “niet” meaning “no”. I think most of the people refused to speak to me even though they understood a little English, at least the words hotel or motel. When finally there was someone to help, I was directed to a cheap hotel, but this hotel was still charging way too much for my budget.

bike siberia beach bike siberia
Pavel Drastik - bike siberia family Pavel Drastik - bike siberia people

Then redirected to a cheaper one (still expensive), I even phoned the only hostel which was unfortunately full. I bargained a slightly better price and got a room, however, I was angry with myself for not planning better. I thought only of getting out of the city as soon as possible and making it to Lithuania and the Kursiu Nerija national park. The next day I wandered out in the morning to replenish my stocks before I set off. The little I could find was very pricy. I cycled through the city relying on my cell phone's GPS and when I finally made it out, I had to get on a highway for another 40 kilometers before I turned off to the right - direction Lithuania. It is neither fun to cycle through a huge city, nor on a highway. Fortunately, I didn't encounter a major difficulty, I reached the true wind and weather beaten Baltic Coast, and managed to leave Russia behind. I crossed the border to the Lithuania for the first time in my life.

Pavel Drastik - bike siberia dinner Pavel Drastik - bike siberia travel
Pavel Drastik - bike siberia sunset Pavel Drastik - bike siberia face

It was late in the evening and I wanted to find a nice campsite. I refilled my bottles at the first gas station and searched a refuge in the sand dunes with a sea view. When finally finding one further down the nudist beach I put up my tent, went for my first dip – of course a skinny dip, and made ketchup&noodles for dinner on my little gas stove. I was back in the nature and I was loving it, because this was how I wanted it! I got up early in the morning and headed for a nearby town called Nida. Nida is a small bustling fishing village which evolved into a turist destinations once Kursiu Nerija national park was established. The long penninsula stretches from Zelenogradsk in Russia all the way to Klaipeda and here one could observe an immense difference between Lithuania (and the Baltic states in general) and Russia. The one hundred kilometer long peninsula is divided in two between the two countries. On the Lithuanian side there was an information office, signposts directing to the sights, designated areas, picnic tables, pathwalks, separated bicycle paths, restaurants, food stores, housing options and all you would expect from a tourist place. The Russian side didn't offer much more than a gate with a soldier and some wooden shelters. I collected a free map from the information office, stocked up lots of food for a great price and started cycling on a separate bicycle path through the pine forests and dunes. I was so close to the sea that I could turn off from the main path at any time to see it or swim in it. 

Pavel Drastik - bike siberia Pavel Drastik - bike siberia detail

It felt extremely good to cycle on a path, without any traffic, apart from fellow cyclists! I cycled at a low pace, tired from the last days and constant vigilance on the busy roads. Sometimes I feel that my body pushes itself so hard that I am unaware of the fact that I am tiring, and once my senses loosen, my body demands rest and I eventually fall sick. I think I came to this point where my senses loosened because I felt safe, but suddenly also very weak and tired. Just before I boarded the ferry connecting the Curonian Spit ( the name of the peninsula, it is connected to the mainland only on the Russian side) with Klaipeda, I heard a loud crack from the back wheel – one spoke snapped. At this time I had no idea how many troubles the rear wheel spokes would cause for the remainder of my voyage. It wasn't a big issue for a young guy from the local bike shop to solve my problem the next day so I could continue north. Due to the short Lithuanian coastline I was about to enter Latvia already. I got especially excited when I bumped into a Polish couple who told me about a possible off-road path along the coast. I had had enough of asphalt I thought to myself. The path wasn't as well marked but I thought I can't get lost if I just follow the coast. I enjoyed cycling alone by the sea on a wild track undisturbed by civilization. At the beginning there were many sandy sections where I had to push the bike, but the beginning was also meant as the worst part and should improve. My progress was slow, however, the sun was shining and I was surrounded by wonderful nature. I crossed the border to Latvia on the beach, this time without any documents and feelings of being a criminal.

Pavel Drastik - bike siberia stone Pavel Drastik - bike siberia totem

It was late afternoon when I was caught up by a German couple who I overtook earlier that day. I was feeling pretty lonely and the idea of a company for a night was very appealing. I carefully suggested that we could camp together and make a bonfire by the beach. They agreed. We bathed and cycled a bit more that evening until we discovered an awesome place to camp. We put up our tents, collected driftwood from the beach and spent the evening chatting, eating, watching the sunset and flames from the fire. I wished everyday was like this one! When I popped my head out of the tent the next morning my fellow companions were already prepared to leave. We wished each other good luck on the trip and our ways split as fast as they crossed the day before. I was back there - lying in my two-man tent totally alone once again. However, I had the prospect of seeing a friend from back home pretty soon. Just before leaving I spoke to an old friend who I windsurf with. In between the conversation he had mentioned that he was going to participate in a windsurfing competition somewhere in Latvia. 'What the heck, you must be kidding' came out of me. He wasn't. An unbelievable coincidence since the dates were almost perfect and the venue was on my way. I had a bed in his recreational vehicle and I arranged with him to bring me some stocks as well, what a checkpoint on my trip! On my way I got lost on the off-road path and ended up in an extensive swamp, when choosing a wrong path on one of the many unmarked intersections. Fortunately, soon after I stumbled upon a Lithuanian family, making the same blunder as me and with joint efforts we made it on a gravel road and rejoined the path some kilometers later. I rejoined with my friend the same evening. The following day I took the first day off, spoke my mother tongue with dozen Czechs, and drank my first beer. Suddenly I was feeling like I was on a surf trip, which I was way more familiar with than a bike trip, but despite the comfort and joy I had to get going soon after. My Russian visa were constantly expiring and the distance to Saint Petersburg was ever shorter, but still very long. It was sad to leave. The next time I should see a friend was about four to five days away, in the Latvian capital, Riga. My aim was to follow the coast, even though this route was twice as long compared with the direct route. The upcoming five days were probably the nicest days from the whole trip though. Cycling on the empty roads along the coast, spotting the sea now and then, sleeping exclusively on the beach, eating well and all of this with favorable weather, there was not much a cyclist could complain about. Well, there was one thing at least, which was the wind. Some days I would almost fly, the others I would move forward only with the greatest effort.

bike siberia 2 Pavel Drastik - bike siberia speed beach

The most frustrating was to reach the northernmost point, Cape Kolka. Getting there I struggled against a strong wind, and when I set off south towards Riga the next morning I found the wind blowing against me again. The wind direction completely turned during the night and I felt there was no justice. The most amazing thing on the other hand was to experience the sincere hospitality of the local people. I was invited to a house of complete strangers, who served me delicious food, ranging from home made cheese, fresh milk and scrambled eggs to pancakes and self-picked herb tea. Moreover I was given a whole heap of home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese to take with me. This was almost unreal, such an amazing feeling to discover that there is still such genuine people in today’s money-driven society. In Riga I stayed with some friends I knew from my university studies in Norway. It was awesome to catch up after many years and see how well they were doing, and they were getting married in a few weeks. The hospitality of my friends was immense, and I took another day off to charge my batteries and to experience Riga. Riga is a busy capital like any other - the mix of new and old with a river meandering through and many tourists trying to make the most of it. Soon I was itching to get going again. First, I'm not a fan of a big cities and second, I was excited because the Estonian border was so close. I missed yet another spoke, just out of Riga, but there was still no drama this time. The opposite actually, I found a bicycle museum where I could admire an unbelievable collection of vintage bicycles, while my wheel was being fixed in the nearby workshop. I spent a night on a beach just some meters prior to the border. I wanted to be fresh for the last, but not least, Baltic state – Estonia!

Pavel Drastik - bike siberia bikes Pavel Drastik - bike siberia sunset two

To my surprise I received a hearty welcome right away, when I noticed a marked route EuroVelo 10. This EuroVelo project has been a big disappointment to me as it existed mainly on the paper. EuroVelo is a project of European Cyclist's federation consisting of thirteen long-distance routes crossing Europe. EuroVelo routes are intended for touring across the continent as well as to be used locally. EuroVelo 10 is a route around the Baltic sea, also called the Hansa circuit. I have found no marking either in Poland, Russia or Latvia. On the contrary, I suppose the project and marking is far more developed in the richer western European countries. It is sad that there are hardly even any maps on the market with EuroVelo routes highlighted. Anyway, not knowing much about the way and not having a proper map, I duly followed the EuroVelo 10 signs and it was great. When traveling on your own, it is only you making the decisions of which way to take so it is a pleasant privilege to delegate it once in a while. The next big checkpoint was Tallinn and I was making steady progress. The wonderful beaches of Latvia turned into swamps in Estonia, which provide a home to millions of mosquitoes. The wind was a friend now, as it was the only mean to make them go away. I approached Virtsu, where there is a boat connecting the mainland with West Estonian Archipelago, but unfortunately, due to the lack of time, I had to turn off the marked route and take a shortcut to Haapsalu on the north coast. The North coast again had some beautiful beaches and pine forests. Closer to Tallinn the sea side even turned into characteristic high cliffs. Another spoke broke and this time I wouldn't find help before I reached Tallinn the next day. Cycling with a heavily laden bicycle on a wobbly wheel, which can collapse at anytime, is a worrying business, but apart from that and one stormy night, when I repeatedly had to get up to tie down the tent, I made it to Tallinn at ease. Soaked and cold I found a hostel and treated myself to a warm shower. The last shower I had was in Riga. I took a walk in the city with a girl from the hostel and I arranged yet another reunion with a university friend. A little bit unexpectedly, but not surprisingly, the following morning I boarded a fast ferry to Helsinki making Finland the seventh visited country on my trip. During the ferry crossing I dusted off my Finish vocabulary realizing that the only two words I recovered were “perkele” and “mintu”.

Pavel Drastik - bike siberia mark Pavel Drastik - bike siberia city

Mintu is a national peppermint liquor and perkele means more or less “god damn”. I greeted my friend by constantly repeating those two words which surprised not only her, but many others around us. At least she was sure that I hadn't grown up from the cheeky kid she remembered from our studies. We spent the day wandering around the city and the evening eating elk stew in a company of her girlfriends. I also took the opportunity to jump in a sauna, although it was sadly without them. It was splendid, yet overwhelming, to be around so many people, which was probably the reason why I drank more than I should have. The day after was a hard one. First of all I didn't feel like saying goodbye and continuing my lonely pilgrims voyage, and apart from that I wasn't feeling fresh either. I realized that meeting friends or strangers was amazing, but every time I had to leave them, I wished I hadn't met them. It seemed much harder to continue cycling afterwards. But I was getting closer and I was getting more confident that I might make it. I was approximately five days away. That evening I reached Lahemaa National Park, which was probably the nicest place in Estonia I experienced. I camped under a lighthouse witnessing the first full moon of my trip, and eating pasta mixed with a rest of the elk stew we made in Helsinki. I wanted to share this moment with my closest, but I was all alone and my cell phone's battery was totally empty. I made some attempts with a dynamo bicycle charger I had bought especially for the trip. However, it wasn't as effective as I hoped and most of the trip I charged my phone at food stores or information offices. I flipped the bicycle with the saddle down and used one hand to spin the wheel, while using the other trying to write a text message, I think I managed to send one short message before my hands turned numb and I gave up. I didn't know it but the next day would turn into one of the worst days of the entire journey.

 
Pavel Drastik - bike siberia tired Pavel Drastik - bike siberia on road again
 
Pavel spent 5 weeks on the road, visiting 7 countries and covering approximately 2500 km. He cycled on a borrowed bicycle and slept in a borrowed tent, some of the other pieces of equipment were as well borrowed. Most of his meals he prepared on a little gas stove he was carrying, his bathroom was Baltic sea. Apart from Pavel's personal goals, his intention was to raise money for Olga Havlova Foundation, Olga Havlova was a wife of the first president of the Czech Republic - Vaclav Havel. Pavel chose to help to a young person, who ended up on a wheel chair, after an unfortunate accident.
So far the expedition has raised 13 566 CZK.
 
Please feel free to help with Pavel! You can directly transfer your donation to the account of Olga Havlova Nadation:  
 
Account number: 625625625/0300
 
For international donations please use a money transfer to:
IBAN CZ72 0300 0000 0004 7843 7033 BIC/SWIFT Code CEKOCZPP Bank Account Number 478437033 Beneficiary Bank Name ČSOB, a.s.  
 
In both cases please state “Siberia” in the field for notes or message to receiver.
Your help will be immensely appreciated!