Spitting Distance

By Stephen Ewashkiw | July 10, 2013

3865 km so far.

Today we rode the spit. The Curonian Spit has a paved bike trail that runs from Nida on the Lithuanian southern end, to the north end where a short ferry takes you to Klaipėda. The trail is often used by day-trippers from cruise ships or weekenders from Vilnius to get out on the spit, do a bit of nature sight seeing, and then be picked up by their support vehicle and taken back to their boat or hotel.

We decided to ride the whole length of the spit trail. It is part of Bike Route 10, which runs the entire length of the Lithuanian coast line – all 99 km of it that is.

But first, we ate breakfast and spied on our neighbours:

noisy group at lithuanian campground

These guys smoked and drank late into the night, and then were up early to smoke and drink some more.

The path today was almost entirely bikes only, and about 90% was a smooth, beautifully paved bike trail. It doesn’t just go straight from one end to the next, but winds its way through pine forests, takes you from one side of the spit to the other several times, and takes you past several marked places of interest.

cyclist on the curonian spit lithuania

Stephen, checking the route. Oh yes, continue along bike path ad infinitum.

The Dead Dunes

The Dead Dunes were the big attraction on the route, and as our trail took us towards them, beautiful dunes that are unspoiled by the intervention of man appeared. These dunes are off-limits to people, to keep them pristine. Except, of course, just to the south we could see a man walking right along the top of them.

The dunes are called the Dead Dunes for two reasons from what I could tell. They are closed to humans (except that guy to the south for whom rules clearly don’t apply) so the dunes have returned to a vegetative state, with even a few hearty pine trees having managed to take root. In this way they are dead to us, except to look at. Also, they hide the remains of a civilisation that called the dunes home a long time ago, and in some places when the dunes have shifted in the right way, their old homesteads peak out from the sand. But the people who once loved and lived there are long-since dead.

The dunes were beautiful: covered in grasses, wild flowers, butterflies, and a few pine trees. It was a stark contrast to the sand dunes from yesterday’s section of the same coast line, with bare sand and bare bodies everywhere.

Faded Grandeur

We stopped to eat lunch on the seaside in Juodkrantė, the town part way along the spit. It has a beautiful seafront walk and bike path with a very cool rock sculpture garden along the path. The town itself was quite different from the touristy beauty of Nida. Juodkrantė has definitely seen better days, and the tourists clearly spend the bulk of their time and money in Nida. We saw many disused hotels and abandoned houses; there was a general greyness about the place. It was all, apart from the brand new seaside walkway, a bit dismal and rundown.

man smoking fish in lithuania

There’s really no food in Lithuania except smoked fish.

We continued on, through poplar and birch forests, until the ferry terminal appeared. We got there just in time to roll on with a few other cyclists and several cars, and we were across to Klaipeda in no time. Also, we didn’t have to pay. We don’t know if the ferry is free, or if, like some of the Gulf Islands off Vancouver, you must buy a return ticket from the mainland side, and so no one checks for tickets on the way back.

We weren’t about to ask.

Klaipeda is a much larger town that I had expected. All along the coast, as far as I could see, was a huge, very busy port. A few cruise ships were docked, more container ships and tankers than I could count, and stack upon stack of containers lined the shore.

Riding through town it was clear that the port is the town’s main industry. We passed many factories that appeared to have been closed since the fall of communism, or earlier. We rode past a massive train yard, where goods from the ships were being prepped for shipping to various ports of call beyond. It was an extremely loud, vast, and bustling train yard.

Late Camp

Just as we were leaving Klaipeda, rain started to fall, lightly at first and then getting progressively harder, until our shorts and socks were wet and the rain was dripping into our shoes. We knew this was likely to be our fate this afternoon, and we only had another 10 km to go after leaving town, so with our rain jackets zipped tight we soldiered on.

We are now enjoying local beer, Karkelbec Krug (me) and cider, Fizz (Jane) post dinner, with the rain having stopped for the time being. Today we are at another campground, making this our eighth day in a row camping in the tent, which is a record for this trip. We may also camp the next five nights along the Latvian coast, so hopefully this rain will pass soon, and the beach weather will return.

For the second night in a row we have noticed that Lithuanians show up late to campgrounds. Tonight we got into the tent and watched an episode of Homeland. Then we got up to do our pre-bed rituals (flossing, brushing, washing) and realised the tent camping area was buzzing. Six new tents were now set up – we had been the only one just an hour before.

We’re not that far north, but the spirit of the midnight sun seems to be alive and well in the Baltics.  

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  1. Comment by Michael Moldofsky

    Michael Moldofsky July 14, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Homeland !

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen July 17, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      Yup – and loving it. Thanks. Ps. Email me about Asia. Looking like we can make it happen!!!

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