Look For The Good

By Stephen | July 6, 2013

3680 km so far.

Well, that was an unexpected, unpleasant experience. Mostly.

We are heading towards the Baltic coast, because as beautiful as we hear Vilnius is, it is just a little too far out of the way. So, today we skirted the Russian (Kaliningrad) border and headed towards the town of Jurbarkas before turning west towards a campsite 10 km further away.

We planned a 98 km ride for today and 109 km for tomorrow. This, for us, is a grand adventure. It means we would complete in two days what we normally do in three or four.

Breakfast Of Champions

We started off at the campsite bar cum restaurant for coffee and to make use of their power. They kindly plugged our iPad and iPhone into a socket behind the bar for us while we drank their coffee and ate our own muesli, looking out over the lake.

Two other families joined us in the bar for breakfast. It was shocking to see what constituted ‘camp breakfast’ for these families.

First off, the men smelled like they had been drinking for hours, and it was only 9am. Secondly, for breakfast the children got plates of fries and cans of Sprite, while the adults had a variety of whisky and beer, combined with potato wedges and some sort of soup. One adult out of six got a breakfast which seemed to have some nutritional value. To go with his beer.

Breakfast of champions.

Hay There, Horsey

Our first few kilometres were uneventful. And then… the beautifully paved road gave way to a gravel road that to our eyes stretched on forever. I knew we had planned a ride on smaller roads so that we could play peek-a-boo with the Russian border, but I hadn’t expected the roads to be quite this basic.

As if to complement the simplicity of the roads, we passed so many horse-drawn carts I can’t recall the number. Some were driven by women who seemed to be riding from their house to a neighbour’s, some were hauling hay, some seemed to have couples on them out for a weekend ride. We also saw a few tractors, but the vast majority of these seemed to be at least 50 years old and had been well maintained to keep them running.

That’s what I call sustainable farming.

After a short while the road became paved again to welcome us to the town we had pegged as a possibility for a Bankomat (ATM), but no such luck. So, we kept going. As we left town, the paved road abruptly disappeared.

Bumpy Roads, Take Me Home

A few more horse-drawn carts, a few cows walking down the road, and we were back on a paved road. The next town, Kudirkos Naumiestis, was to be our lunch stop, and it had a shop where we could buy a few things to add to the bread and vegetables we already had. It also had a very nice, shaded park where we could eat. It also had several shirtless men who had clearly drunk too much, and it was only noon.

While checking our map we also realised the town was literally on the border of Russia, so after lunch we rode our bikes down the side street that seemed to lead into Russia and we found this:

The border between Lithuania and Russia on the Kaliningrad side.

The border between Lithuania and Russia on the Kaliningrad side.

As we left town we knew it was only about 35 km to the next big town, which was about 9 km from our destination. Pocket Earth showed at least one Bankomat and two grocery stores, so we were looking forward to getting there, and getting some money and supplies.

About 2 km out of town we had to make a left-hand turn, onto, you guessed it, another loose gravel road. Jane and I both swear this one was worse than before, with the gravel looser and the ridges deeper. We both thought, “Well, at least it can’t be like this for the next 33 km.” It was. Each ‘big’ town we rode through (at most 200 inhabitants) gave us hope that the rest of the route would be paved, as their main streets had asphalt. Alas, it was not to be. One kilometre stretches of paving were interspersed with multiple kilometres of rocky road, and not the ice cream.

Jane’s note: These were not ordinary dirt roads. We can handle a bit of dirt. These roads were loose gravel, poured over loose sand, on top of killer washboards. On the edges, where you might normally find a passable surface, were scattered baseball-sized rocks, just the right distance apart to make riding impossible. Arrrrgh.

In total, out of 97 km riding today, about 45 of them were rough, loose, unpleasant rocky surfaces. This takes twice as long to traverse, hurts all sorts of parts of the body (hands, knees, butt, back), and is just downright unpleasant.

Still, we saw more storks than we can count, I talked to several cows (my moos are getting quite realistic apparently), and we said hello to many locals. We even scared two young girls who had taken shelter from the heat under a bridge that we chose to stop on for a short reprieve.

We also saw a statue garden dedicated to the folk artist, Pranas Sederivicius.

And we ate some cepelinai, which is a ball of potato, curd, and mushroom sauce, in this case.

Cepelinai. Not the best, but we weren't at the best restaurant.

Cepelinai. Not the best, but we weren’t at the best restaurant.

It was an quite an eye-opener to see the most rustic farming we have seen on the trip (and we have seen a lot). Neither of us expected this from Lietuvos (Lithuania), but then neither of us really knew what to expect.

Hotel, Motel, Campground Inn

We were planning to head to a campsite in Smalininkai, but we hadn’t seen any sign of it yet when we passed a small hotel. We decided to ask them if we could camp, and they were happy to help. With our own shower and bathroom, plus a hammock and rustic wooden bench swing mere feet from our tent, we decided this was much better than a campsite we weren’t even sure was real. This is the third hotel we have camped at this week.

Travellers’ tip: If you need somewhere to camp, ask at a hotel. Our experience is they are happy to accommodate and usually much cleaner (and emptier) than a real campground.

The ride today may not have been exactly what we expected, but that is partly what we are hoping for on this trip: the unexpected. We want to see the way people truly live and today certainly offered that.

Soundtrack: A.C. Newman, Shut Down The Streets | Loose Fur, Born Again In The USA | Chris T-T, Capital | Kanye West, Yeezus | Gorillaz, Demon Days | Thom Yorke, The Eraser | Eve, Scorpion  

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7 comments

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  6. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie Reply July 10, 2013 at 7:18 am

    First off, I’m loving that you are mooing at the cows. I did that as a kid and was sure that we were really talking to each other. Secondly, I would not have guessed that a hotel would let you camp on their grounds! That is very interesting. Do they ask for a bit of money for toilet/shower use? Curious how that works. Cool that you’re riding the Russian border!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen July 14, 2013 at 1:24 am

      Moo!

      The hotels we have stayed at have all had a camping policy, so it is quite common here. When we ask if we can camp they just say, “Yes, it costs… And you can put your tent there or there. The bathroom and shower are here.” It is all very organised. It has cost us around $10 total each time for a spot to put our tent and use. Of a private bathroom and shower. Most hotels also have WiFi that is much faster than at a campground and power for us to use at no extra charge.

      We are at a super busy campground right now, and I would be much happier in the yard of a hotel truth be told. However, this campground is right on the beach, and I can’t complain.

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