Saturday, May 25, 2013

Beard Two: Return to Lithuania

[Written 3-4 weeks ago.]

Last time I may or may not have described the first few days of my trip through Sweden. Oh wait, I described the entirety of my trip through Sweden. Great.

I arrived in Lithuania at nine a.m. on the ass-end of an industrial wasteland outside Klaipėda. My first introduction to the country was miles of forest and very small villages, and this, my second, was rolling off a clanging, exhaust-filled ferry while dodging many large trucks and larger potholes.

I made it to the town center, but as I am not much for city tourism I can't tell you much about it. There is a nice little canal, though.

After dawdling for a few hours (including writing the previous beard), I struck off for Kaunas with basically no preparation. I had no map, little food, and no cash. I came to regret the last, but only because it prevented me from getting ice cream a couple days later. The point is, touring in Lithuania is not a complicated activity.

I took Lithuanian highway 141 all the way from Klaipėda to Kaunas.  Every 5-15 kilometers I passed a village shop (parduotuvė) where I could get water, snacks, and the occasional vegetable.

The weather was amazing - chilly at night but +12-15 in the day. On day one (which started at 14:30) I made 70 km, still a big number for me, and felt great.

This is getting boring. Quick!

Day 2: Headwind. Glbargleflguhr. Still manage 91km in 9 hours, which may or may not have been a mistake. The incessant internal tour-dialogue picks up this day, and occasionally becomes verbal. I climb a tree.

Day 3: Finally recognize the signs of heat exhaustion (night sweats, fuzzy mind, dehydration) and decide to give the morning the big ol' middle finger. It rains until 12 or so, which is fine because I was in my cozy tent. F u, world. F u.

Day 3, cont'd: TAILWIND!

Day 3, denouement: in eight hours (14:30 to 22:30) I made 108km - my second biggest day ever.

In three days I made 270km, and on two of those days I didn't start until the mid afternoon. I am at least twice as fast as I was when I started touring Europe last year!

Of course the best part of touring is not just haulin ass. Besides the storks, the brightly colored houses, the horse-drawn ploughs, and the plethora of backyard gardens in villages that seem primarily comprised of back yards, I... okay, that sentence is already long enough. But let's not forget the little field sparrow, whose courtship display involves chirping constantly, without apparently stopping for breath, while flying straight up from the flat, damp farm fields, straight into the sky, until his body is a little speck and his song can hardly be heard. And the cats, hunting in the field - one in particuler perched intently on a miniature Pride Rock, all tendon and anticipation while the grass in front rustles with potential and opportunity. And did I mention the storks? So majestic and elegant, although let me tell you, they are brutal as hell and I've seen them do some things with their beaks I won't soon forget. (Poor little mole.)

So now I'm in Kaunas. Next time I'll write about my experiences here.  I also intend to write about more than just the raw experiences of touring -- maybe discuss some of the philosophy that is generated by this lifestyle -- but eastern Europe is still too new (again), and there are too many experiences to write about! So. Some time.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beard One: Gothenburg to Karlshamn

375km; six-ish days. I followed Sverigeleden, mostly but not entirely on purpose, and then followed Banvallsleden along a converted train track. On-road about half the time, with extremely minimal traffic.

California plates.
Left Monday April 15 (tax day!), 9:30, after a medium-length goodbye from the crew. I finished packing early that morning, then had fika with the crew at 9am, as usual.

For the previous month and a half, I had volunteered with the Götheborg.

That's worth another post in itself, but if I start writing about the past I'll never actually write about anything at all. So!

After leaving the ship with more than a few bittersweet emotions, I wandered in a lost sort of way around the city of Gothenburg, finally getting to the posh seaside suburbs around 11. The rain started pretty quick, like it always does when I start a trip, but it never rained hard. The day was basically uneventful, except for the familiar cycling euphoria that took hold, even if the landscape is still all grey and cold and hoping for warm weather. It never sucks to be riding a bike, with the past completely behind you and the future entirely in front of you and nothing in the present but the present.

The first night was spent with another volunteer with the Götheborg, Martin. He lives in a huge old farmhouse in the countryside. He recognized the Couchsurfing logo on my laptop a few weeks earlier, and a couchrequest was duly sent some time later.

The next day was a slow, late, "what is this cycling thing you keep talking about, we legs are unsure of the concept" day. There was sun.  The rain started about when I set up camp.

Wednesday the 17th was probably the highlight. I was able to do some sunbathing, I ate a lot, and I cycled 81km.

I don't remember where I stopped, except that it was the forest as usual. This part of Sweden is pretty sparse. What villages exist are nothing more than a collection of farmhouses. I am used to being able to stop and resupply every 10km or so, but I was spoiled by Latvia and Lithuania. ("Veikals, veikals, veikals", as one fellow cyclist said when explaining his trip to a fellow countryman. I cycled with that dude and his friends for a day and a night last summer.) Central Sweden had lots of trees and hills but not much in the way of shops.

Thursday the 18th was rough. So was Friday. My legs hurt, I was chafing in places I prefer not to chafe, and the wind was a mess. The weather was trying really hard to change, and unfortunately having little success.

I camped in some pretty sweet spots though. Incidentally, have you heard of allemansrätten?

I also passed a pretty sweet sign on the border of two Swedish provinces.

I just learned that the provinces are historical with no modern political purpose. Hooray, internet.

Finally, early on Saturday, I arrived in Karlshamn, a pleasant seaside-y type of place. I dawdled for a bit, then boarded the ferry around 4 in the afternoon. It's no East Indiaman, but my cabin was a bit bigger than what I had on the Götheborg and I was able to hang up my gear to dry it a bit. Self included.

Ok that's already too long! More next week, after I travel to Kaunas!  I bid farwell with this two-sided boulder near Karlshamn:


I have tried and failed to blog on a couple different occasions.  Here's another go!

I have been traveling, ish, for three years. The last year has been spent in Europe. I mostly live on my bicycle. This, therefore, shall mostly be a bicyle touring blog.

The blog's title, Beard in the Mailbox, comes from a Swedish expression that is unrelated to blogging or bicycling. But I thought Damn that would be a great blog title, so here we are.

So where exactly is here? At the moment, Klaipeda, Lithuania. This, after spending six weeks, maybe a bit more, in Gothenburg, Sweden. In the coming weeks I will be making my way to Ukraine, and then other countries in that region of southeast Europe. The first Beard shall be a description of the trip from Gothenburg to Karlshamn, where I boarded (bearded?) the ferry to Lithuania!