Cycle Tour Iron Curtain Tour, part 1: Klaipeda-Grense Jakobselv
Dag 6, etape 6: Pukarags-Karosta
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Added on 30 Jun 2017
on 01 Aug 2017
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by Ottocolor on 03 Jul 2017
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Rucavas novads, Courland, LV (37 m NHN)
Liepāja, Courland, LV (7 m NHN)
06 May 2017
The cold weather's back! In the morning still sunny and quiet. During the daytime chilly, in the evening and night very cold for the time of year.
The second day of the Iron Curtain Tour's second part, the five days stretch from Klaipeda to Riga. The stage turned out 45 km shorter because of very sandy paths, where I had to wheel my bike. Accordingly, I didn't make my goal of Pavilosta, but pitched my tent shortly after Karosta.
Departure at 11.30, arrival at 21.00, i.e. 9.30 hours with stops. Average speed with stops 6 km/h. Max speed: 25,8 km/h. Odometer after the stage: 493 km. Remaining distance 3,392 km.
Text message, May, 6 at 9.18: Dear friends. I'm sitting in my tent on a small camp site far out in the Latvian national park of Pape. It's fantastic weather. And so is the beach. Sandy all way long. Yesterday I enjoyed a day on the splendid Lithuanian bike paths. In Klaipeda I first had my gear adjusted and had a look at the city. It was called Memel in German times, i.e.. until 1918. At the harbour I saw houses which reminded me of Lubeck, Stralsund and others. Bike lanes were okay in the city with some interruptions. But then it turned out so nice. Here in Latvia roads are a lot poorer. Lots of coarse, uneven gravel. The tarmac roads have lots of potholes. Incredible difference! Today my plan is to cycle 94 km along the coast to Pavilosta. I'll pass the port city of Liepaja, where Russa and the Soviet Union ran an infamous prison, one can visit today. The Germans and Latvians have also subjugated people there. The old imperial Russain naval port of Karosta I also want to see. Then it's probably late. Yesterday I arrived just past eight o'clock. Just before my arrival an accident ocurred. I lost my bag with groceries on the gravel road and my beer can was punctured. So I had to drink water with my supper, tortellini with roasted sausages, bread and cucumber. Now I'll ride on on my staunch iron horse. Have a nice weekend. Hi from Helmuth.
The glorious morning was perfect for a morning swim in the sea. It was quite hot inside the tent in the sun, pitched on a beautiful spot in the dunes behind the deepblue Baltic sea. Outside my tent it was a bit chillier than yesterday, but the sky was flawless. The beach was empty, so I had a swim in the altogether. In fact, I didn't use my bathing trunks before Sodankylä in Finnish Lapland, where a group of youngsters were bathing in the river, when I arrived. I'm kind of a hidden naturist and always swim naked, if it doesn't cause any upset. It's ridiculous to take off your clothes in order to put on some other to go for a dip.That's how I see it. My principle is that when other dressed people are, where I want to swim I put on bathing trunks. If it's empty I wear nothing. If someone arrives later, I was there first and then I do not cover myself up. In some countries skinny dipping is forbidden by the law. Well, I haven't had problems with the police because of any offence to public decency. I guess, people have seen worse things than my naked body. Here in Latvia it was allowed, but I didn't see anybody around either. After my breakfast I do my, at least for a man, quite extensive morning toilet which easily takes half an hour. Then I change clothes to cycling outfit inside my tent get all my stuff packed and put it on the bike. By then the morning is often gone. A chat with my camping neitghbours, if there are any, is also always included. After all I'm alone on tour and my social needs have to be met as well. Apart from the fact that chatting to people is one of the aims of my bike holiday. But oftlen people are so interested in my plans that I don't get much response on my questions about their reasons for being where they are. For other tourist's part it's not that important but the locals' opinion is alway of interest to me. Today it was half past eleven before I rolled out on the gravel road to the north. The first kilometer or so were of the same standard as yesterday, but after the last house the path disappeared in between the pines and grew terribly sandy. The tree roots were also obstacles, but the deep sand was a lot worse. It made cycling absolutely impossible. I knew I had no less than 17 km to the village of Jurmalciems, before I had a road to go on again. Therefore I should have turned around and gone back on the bumpy gravel road to the main road, where I had left it yesterday evening. It would have been quite a detour, so it wasn't appealing to me. So I trudged on and on very short stretches I was even able to cycle. But all in all it was hopeless. I saw a sign with a cycling symbol, and that encouraged me to go on. But it depicted a mountain bike trail and was totally inappropirate for my heavy bicycle. On the other hand it was a beautiful and peaceful coastal forest and the sun shone from a cloudless sky. I decided to have my packed lunch and think about my options. So I leaned my bike to a pine and pulled out my Bayern Munich-lunchbox. Then I climbed a dune with a view to the sea. Just perfect. If this had been Lithuania and not Latvia, one may add. I considered the sand to be a feature of the coast and that a trail to the east away from it could help and in the end take me to the main road. For the time being there was no such trail so I kept wheeling forward through the deep sand. Until I finally found a trail to the east. On the gps display it did not go all the way but I hoped it would be possible at least to bike. But it turned out even worse, as it ended in a swamp. I realised it when the plants around me changed. And my bike and feet slowly began to sink into the mud. I felt like playing a part in an absurd theatre show when I peeled off all the luggage to enlighten my bike. While doing this I had to move my feet around constantly to keep them on the surface. I sweated like a beast, although it wasn't hot at all, and this was quite lucky as I did not have much water left. Nevertheless, I was quite thirsty before bicycle, luggage and myself were reunited on solid, but still sandy ground. So I wheeled on. Once again I tried to escape from this sandy hell, but that trail ended in a game feeding station, which was defenitely supplied by all terrain vehicles from the coast path. Now I was really thirsty and quite desperate about the fact that I was moving nowhere. It was already four o'clock and I still had some kilometres of sand ahead of me. I was in deep sand. And in deep shit. A big Latvian family, who had come out into the woods in several cars for a picnic at a sunny spot saved me, both physically with water and psychologically, assuring me that "a good road" was very near ahead. And their cars did nok look terrain going. My spirits rose immediately. The road was only "good" by Latvian standards, but anything was better than the sandy trail. I thanked them profoundly for their help. Especially the water was essential and they even filled my bidon when I had had enough. When the man learned I was Danish he told me that Latvia just had beaten Denmark at the ice hockey world cup. Well, that wasn't shocking to me, although I normally care a good deal about ice hockey. But now I was just relieved to be able to cycle again soon afterwards. Luckily this was a Sunday. On a Monday I would not have met these people. Soon I was on a "standard Latvian gravel road" again. Now I yearned for coffee so I looked for a place to supply the little water I had left. A camp site at the edge of a wood seemed a good option, but it was totally deserted and no water was to be had as the tap was turned off. Obviouslly, the season had not started yet. So I just had one small cup of coffee. While savouring it with some biscuits I thought about my stage goal in Pavilosta. It was awfully far away, almost 75 km and it was half past five already. Mission impossible as darkness would fall some four hours ahead. Okay, then I just would go as far as possible. I felt a light headwind now. It had been no issue before, but on the main road to Liepaja I could feel its slowing effect. I also felt I had grown tired by wheeling my bike through sand for four whole hours, moving only 15 km ahead. That's three and three quarters of a kilometre an hour! My goodness! Slower than average walking speed! Just before I reached the main road I got water from a friendly couple who were planting trees in their garden. The woman gladly filled up my bidon inside the house. Now I made good progress towards the port city of Liepaja.
The main road was fairly good for cycling. Not many potholes and traffic wasn't bad. But I had to watch out for big lorries passing from behind at high speeds. So I tried to keep to the right. I was after all approaching a big city. Liepaja welcomed me with a kind of city gate with bike racks made of tubes shaped as bicycles, Eurovelo signs, telling me I was on route no. 13 and a bike path paved in red tiles. Soon the route turned to the sea and an esplanade, where many people had a Sunday evening stroll in the sun. But it had grown bitterly cold now! I pulled lots of clothes out of my panniers, as my nose was running as it always does in cold weather. At the harbour front I had a short break. It was a disturbing difference to the Klaipeda harbour front. Here was an atmosphere of hard work and it smelled of oil and fish. Everything, both ships and quay equipment was worn down and rusty, and the road was very bumpy. It felt like the Soviet Union had fallen apart only yesterday. This fact, combined with the lateness made me not give the city centre of Liepaja any chance of improving my impression. I did see, though, a posh shopping mall with a glass front next to the city theatre. It looked modern as did the hypermarket on the other side of the harbour. Here I increased my food supplies. My plan was now to go only to Karosta, some ten kilometres down the road and try to book a bed at the hostel, which now sits in the infamous former prison in this military town. That would mean a kilometre deficit of 45, which I would have to diminish during the following stages, if I still wanted to have a rest day in Riga. Which I desperately wanted! Soon after I had to spend time to dismount my front mud gear. I had touched it with my foot while trying to cross a big road, in a way that it was curled forward along the wheel. Annoying and troublesome. But I could easily do without that mud gear now and hopefully have it replaced in Riga. I just wanted to go on now. An old steel suspension bridge crossed the dug out harbour of Karosta. It was built in the 1870ies, while Latvia was a part of imperial Russia, as was the town, which housed the military personnel and their families. Karosta means 'war port' in Lettish. In Soviet times it continued as a naval base and did thus not feature on maps. The town was an independent unit despite its closeness to Liepaja and a letter to this city cost the same as sending it to Vladivostok in the Soviet far east. After Latvian independence the naval base was dismantled and the installations are left to rot. As are the blocks of flats, where the former naval officers and workers still live with their families. The houses looked really miserable. I heard only Russian spoken and thought that this was the marginalised Latvian underclass. I asked a young man for the direction to the prison/hostel. He looked shabby and huddled in the evening cold. The thermometre of the GPS showed six degress centigrade, and that's not much for May, 6th. I easily found the prison which looked like a mansion in the sun, but also menacing as I knew that several generations of people have been mistreated here, first by the Russians under zarist rule, then by the Soviet rulers, then by the Nazis during their occupation of Latvia in 1941 to 44 and finally by the Latvians themselves. But when Latvia joined the EU, this kind of violations of human rights were no longer acceptable, and only a few years earliger torture and executions had ben replaced by a museum and a hostel. But now the gate was closed and no telephone number or bell was to be found. I must say I did fancy a shower and a warm bed inside instead of a cold bath in the sea and a night in my sleeping bag. But I could forget that. Now my plans were to buy two big bottles of water and pitch my tent in the coastal forest. Before that I wanted to have a look at Karosta's biggest sightseeing object, that is the Maritime Cathedral as it's called in translation from Russian. It's a big Orthodox church with many onion shaped domes, shining brightly in the evening sun. It looked newly renovated in stark contrast to the derelict blocks of flats around it. This was a small taste of the huge contasts I would experience in Russia. But I did not think about that here. In a supermarket I bought some water, so I could manage a night in nature. And I immediately found a nice spot in the forest in reasonable shelter near a bay with a lovely sandy beach, where I had a very cold bath. Now there was also an icy fresh breeze from the north. But I had to go. Gasping and with chattering teeth I ran back to my tent and put on a lot of night clothes before slipping into my sleeping bag and cooking me a dinner on the gas cooker, placed in the awning. Amidst the process I realised, I had forgotten my wrist watch on the beach. Damn! So I put on shoes and jacket and went for a little run. It took some time to get warm inside the tent that night. Later I learned that a harsh and long period of cold weather had gripped all of Northern Europe. I remember I had read in a paper at the railway station of Haessleholm in Sweden that snow as south as in the capital of Stockholm was expected. I had hoped that the Baltic states would be spared but that hope faded now. But right now the short distance I had made today was more worrying than the cold. I realised already then that I had planned stage distances for Danish conditions and not Latvian ones. They were just too long in these circumstances. But today I had also made a bad choice, so at least I had to avoid sandy paths along the coast and in this way try to catch up with my plans of making Riga by Tuesday.