The Baltic Way
The door of our room locks behind us, and me and Krišjānis are in the hallway, dressed only in our undies. After a good lough about our acute clumsiness with the help of hotel’s personnel we get back in the room. After that everything goes as planned. Each member of the team rushes through breakfast in his own strategic way – some eat only enough to get through the next 2-3 hours, others, in the contrary, stuff themselves full to last till Riga. We get out of the hotel at 7:40 and encounter the first surprise of this trip. “Good morning! My mane is Jēkabs,” he says and joins the team. We are a bit shocked, but Jēkabs is committed to cycling to Riga with our gang of six – Kaspars, Dzintars, Kārlis P., Krišjānis, Vitālijs and me. Precisely at 8:00, the pedals begin to turn and we are on our way.
Of course, we have checked the forecast, and it is great – a constant back-wind and an encouraging promise of at least 4 natural showers during the next 24h. Our spirits are high, and they get even higher, when we realize that with the help of the back-wind maintaining a speed of 35-40km/h is like a walk in a park. We laugh and make jokes about reaching Tallinn this evening, but after 85km the first shower cools us down. The bikes are quickly equipped with mudguards, and the riders put on their waterproof costumes. I have to say that the wet stuff coming from above is nothing compared to the buckets of water thrown up by our wheels and passing cars. Soon even the waterproof gear is soaked and so are we. In Lithuania, the highway passovers are decorated with the flags of all three Baltic countries, honoring the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way. On roadside people are preparing bonfires to be lit in the evening. Some of the cars passing by are decorated with flags, and almost all of them sound their horns and solute us, as we are approaching Panevežys. It seams that the first 120km have passed in a heartbeat. A small sprint before the rest stop, which is, of course, won by Krišjānis, and we are greeted by the wide smile of Radisson Blu Elizabete’s father and mother in one person and patron of this trip – Gints Dzirnieks. After the pitstop we are even faster, because our ranks have been supplemented with fresh cyclists on triathlon bicycles with great aerodynamics. To tell you the truth, at one point we had to slow down the pace, because maintaining a speed of 40km/h in a 24h ride is not the best idea.
As our column gets longer, the mutual cooperation begins to stumble – the head fails to inform the tail about dangerous objects on the road, particularly, the road curb made as a bank of the same asphalt as the surface of the road. Lithuania was the only country where we spotted this unfriendly thing, but it was enough to send Krišjānis down. Before hitting the lowest point, Krišjānis manages to throw his bike in a ditch, thus saving it form the intense traffic passing by. A moment later, he is back on his seat and continues to pedal with one bleeding knee. Still in Lithuania, the triathlon ultra-ride gets a flat, so we use a spare wheel the only time during this journey.
It seams that someone up there has decided that we are too dusty to come home, so just before the Latvian border the shower mode is turned on again, soaking us to the bones. In the border zone, we meet a group of cyclists participating in another Baltic Way cycle race to the Latvian/Lithuanian border. The sense of home warms our hearts, as we are welcomed by locals standing in bus stops – they wave, shout out encouragements and sing under Latvian flags flapping over their heads. We pause, so we don’t have to pass by the column of cars, formed behind the cycle race “The Baltic Way.” It seams that today everybody is on a bike, and that’s great! We wait until the road is clear up to Bauska where we find both physical and mental reinforcements – Hawaii Express team will be a powerful addition to our ranks.
In Bauska, we are surprised by a somewhat large group of children surrounding us and weighting our bikes. After an excellent history lesson for our young supporters and a group photo we leave them with twinkling eyes and push on towards Riga, followed by laughter, praises and cheers. Before Iecava, our support van takes a by-road, to go round the column of cars following the officially organized cycling race “The BalticWay.” But our team of 17 overtake the fellow riders, saluting them and with dignity keeping our pace of 33km/h.
As we get closer to Riga, riders become winded up by emotion and, just like horses who have caught the sent of their home stable, we throw ourselves to gallop. Ķekava, The Southern Bridge, Krasta Street, The Statue of Liberty – all of that just flashes by. We have earned an hour long pause in our base-camp at Radisson Blu Elizabete, where we are fed, warmed up, dried and encouraged for the next stretch. In Riga, some of the riders bid their fare-well, others join us, and we thank everybody. Jēkabs shows up with a back-pack full of his stuff – he has decided to go on up to Tallinn. Despite the 290km behind our backs we feel light as feathers and ready to go.
Since Panevežys we can’t shake off the feeling of something being wrong, because this is going too smoothly and we are even racing ahead of the detailed schedule prepared by Krišjānis. This allows us to rest for a minute longer during each pitstop, and by rest I mean gulp down everything that we can get our hands on. We eat like barbarians, but it is kind of understandable, because this “choo choo train” needs constant fueling. As we are swallowed by the next shower, the guys from Hawaii Express team take over the role of towing locomotive. We are still holding a good pace, but, as we loose the daylight, our batteries start to deplete. Near Salacgrīva, Artūrs, who joined us in Riga, looses his bike, because a problem with the connecting-rods in his pedals renders his ride unusable. But, thanks to the operative reaction of the Hawaii Express team, Artūrs soon is in a saddle of another bike and can continue the ride.
We have reached Estonia! The darkness has changed a thing or two, and the kilometer counter turns more and more unwillingly. We kind of anticipated that after 450km we would hit a wall. The supporting crew encourages us with hot tea and extra calories. As we get closer to Parnu, we reach a point when the physical strength becomes worthless. Another shower hits and washes or sweaty bodies, refreshing us for the last 130km up to Tallinn. Only 130km! A child’s play! Lets pedal!
Each of us hits this undefined wall in a different way – someone is singing “Bailando, bailando”, someone is listening to cheering music, someone ofter 200km can’t understand the feelings of those who have cycled approx. 500km., and someone else blows a fuse and spits out some harsh words. We are 85km from Tallinn, when Dzintars’ body raises the white flag. Fortunately, he has enough courage to step down without subjecting his health to greater risk. Thanks for towing the cart! Others continue to pedal, maintaining an incredible average speed over 30km/h. We have given up solid foods and get our strength from energy jelly and liquids. Vitālijs friendly encourages me, by telling that he knows why I can’t pedal any more – it’s because I am the only one with unshaven legs. Laughter always helps. We have entered the autopilot phase and, as the morning mist clears, we can’t quite grasp that we will actually finish our 600km race in the planned 24 hours.
Yes! It’ s done! We congratulate each other, overwhelmed by joy and warm feeling of togetherness. The feeling we, a bunch of small kids, didn’t get to experience in 1989 on the Baltic Way. The feeling that each of us alone couldn’t do what we did together.
And there is another good thing that we can do together:
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