Biking around the Baltic states part I

Sep 17, 2016

I guess many of you who knew about this blog were wondering what is going on. The time has been passing by since it was established, but nothing really has been posted. The time has finally come. I had a little bit more time recently and being on a more 'relaxed' part of my journey provided a good opportunity to put some effort into writing. You see, September in Moscow isn't similar at all to what we used to call late summer with its ~12℃, overcast and drizzle.

As some of you may know I have recently quit my job in order to follow a different, more independent lifestyle. I wanted to work on some projects of mine which I never could have found time for and in the meantime enjoy the world through travelling and adventuring. This last part is what I would like to share with you in this and a number of upcoming posts.

2016 so far has proven to be a special year for me in many ways. I was travelling a lot so far on 3 continents, I went for almost 4 weeks of everyday hiking on high altitudes in the Himalayas (the longest hiking trip so far in my life) followed in just two weeks by my first ever race - a ~63kms ultra trail (I have never ran before more than 20km). Following this newly established tradition of trying something new I decided that my first travel should be a bicycle touring. Great idea if you have never biked for more than 40kms, right?

The plan

As the target destination I have chosen a region of Europe which was still unknown to me - the Balic states and the northeastern region of Poland. I wanted to start in my home region of Lubelskie voievoidship in Poland and following near the eastern border of the country to reach the border with Lithuania; later cross the Lithuanian lakelands and join with the Daugava (Dźwina) river valley in Latvia to reach the Baltic sea coast in Riga. From there head up north through the Latvian and Estonian lakelands to finally reach Tallinn as my final destination. Roughly 1500kms. My estimate, based on nothing more than an idea that an average cycling speed should be around 20km/h, was that I should be able to finish it in around 15days not counting the rest days and sightseeing. Very scientific :) All in whole looks like a good idea, doesn't it?

A biref overview of the planned route

Getting things ready

Having the plan ready I was able to start some preparations. It would probably be good to do some physical prep work, but that's apparently not my style and instead I concentrated on the equipment and logistics. The latter was really pretty simple as I didn't want to have any fixed plan to follow. Instead a rough plan as the one described above and planning for a couple of days in front seemed enough. I was looking for places to stay just one day before as weather varies and it would make things more tense in some situations. In case of emergency and a lack of any decent place to sleep I have taken a tent with me. There are certain disadvantages in such travelling style. You have to take into account the possibility of not finding anything and sleeping in a tent. Possibly in the rain. The uncertainty of the following day. But that is also a part of an adventure, isn't it?

Collecting the equipment was a little bit different story. For selecting clothes and camping gear I have used my standard guidelines from the mountain world - the less the better. Or in different words - the minimal viable set. A couple of T-shirts, one pair of shorts and one of softshell trousers. One set of base layer clothes for colder temperatures, a rain jacket, etc. This was the part I did not have any issues with. But as this was my first ever long-distance cycling tour I had more concerns with the required equipment for the bike and how to orientate in the terrain. Thanks to my ex-colleagues from 3scale I've got a full set of bike panniers (once again, thanks guys so much!): two rear and one front handlebar bag. Got some bicycle repair kit from a local store (tubes, tools for changing them, a set of keys, etc.).

For navigation I was using mostly one tool. An android app(there is also an iOS version) GaiaGPS. I have used it before in the Himalayas and it proved to be a perfect tool for mapping. It gives you access to multiple different maps version ranging from OpenHiking, OpenCycling maps through Satelite, topographical, road, nautical to official US, Spain, France, etc. ones. You can record your tracks and also download .gpx files with routes and waypoints. Those gps tracks I have found on Biroto where cycling routes around whole Europe are stored and free to use after registration.

Off we go!

With this amazing plan outlined and a list of equipment ready, I was able to put all the stuff in the panniers and hit the road! In a later post I will share some highlights, experiences and lessons from the trip. It may take a while as tomorrow night I am going into the wilderness of the Caucasus mountains for around 3 weeks. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.