Fat Ugly Legs and a Stupid Cat
Klaipėda – Dituva
I was both tired and excited when I woke up. At the time we were blessed with a visit from my in-laws, in fact this little detail is what led me to take-off and cycle just as far away from our tired little communist flat as possible. It was not because I was running from them, but rather because they wanted to see the country and this trip had been percolating on my bucket-list for quite some time. My Dad-in-law had kindly agreed to drive my car with the rest of the family, some nights we would meet up, but most importantly if things went pear-shaped on this, my first big cycling adventure, then help was always just a phone call and a few hundred kilometres away.
I was up first and thus needed to be quiet, which was not an easy thing to do when my bike was parked in our hallway in front of both bedroom doors and needed to be packed. Naturally enough, first thing was to put on the coffee. For the journey I had purchased a brand new ceramic espresso coffee cup for the grand total of 57 Euro cents and I had planned on using it every morning of my ride.
So showered, watered and fed, I fought my way past my panniers and bike to the door. Lithuania is allegedly a dangerous place; evidence of this is our door. A previous inhabitant had installed no less that nine bolts in it, which takes a total of five turns until it is unlocked. Realistically one needs a respite stop after just opening the door.
I pushed my bike through the door, spun the bike around on a 180 and lent it against the stair rail. I then walked back in and got my two front panniers and re-entered our hallway to gather my two rear panniers. As if this wasn’t enough, I made one final sortie into our quiet hallway to grab my bash-hat. Next on the agenda was the stairwell ordeal. I carried my bike down the first flight of eight stairs and left it where I could see it, propped up against our defunct communist garbage chute. Then I dragged my tired caffeinated body back up the eight stairs and carried my front panniers down two flights of stairs, leaving them just out of sight against the stair rail. Then back up for my rear panniers and basically I kept repeating this process until I found myself, my bike and panniers out on the street. In our poorer, predominantly Russian neighbourhood one needs to be mindful of opportunistic light fingered drunks and dumpster-divers. This process I have carried out many times before and since.
One of the great things about Lithuania is that you can ride on the footpath, thus my journey started right there at the door, after a few minutes of attaching my panniers and putting on my helmet. Realising that my sunglasses wouldn’t attach themselves to my face with my helmet on, I took off my helmet and then put on my sunglasses and helmet again. Then finally I was off, riding alongside our neighbours’ closes, over the drain cover that regularly leaks sewage, along the path that turns into a river of trash and dog-poo during the snow-melt and eventually out onto the main footpath. I hung a right, rode up past the bus-stop with the broken seats and the pavement peppered in ginger cigarette-butts and listened to my panniers softly rattling as my bike quietly bounced over broken ash-grey concrete pavers, until I met a pedestrian crossing which provided a level entry point for me to move onto the road.
For the next 200 metres I jostled with bendy-buses, micro-buses, cars and anything else that chose to use our street to exit the city on this slightly windy, cool and sunny early Monday morning. Feeling the adventure ahead, the weight of my bike and the wind whistling through my bash-hat gave me a beautiful and familiar sense of freedom and invincibility. At such times I always think back to the first time that I hitch-hiked north out of my home city of Dunedin, New Zealand. I was 16 years old and was travelling about 60 kilometres to see a girl that I had the hots ]for. My first ride and first ever hitch-hiking ride took me about 30 kilometres and dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. It was at that moment, standing at the side of the road under our Kiwi sun, enjoying the solitude with the sound of a river running, sheep bleating and birds singing, that I first felt the freedom and invincibility of the road ahead. Now at the other side of the world I savoured this reminiscing moment, for indeed it was just a moment, because I was forced to stop at a red light and choke in car fumes from vehicles that would never be considered roadworthy enough to drive north out of Dunedin. As the light turned green, I peddled out across the main road from our ferry terminal to our capital, mounted the footpath to the bicycle track, then stopped again. It was technology time: I have an original Google smart phone and installed on it is a tracking app that pretty much tells me everything, including what I had for breakfast. This short stop was for me to push the ‘start tracking’ button.
Now numbers for me go together like a horse and abattoir; I kill them. So if I say that I cycled a kilometre, please give me about a 20 percent margin of error. Also five minutes down the road does not mean literally five minutes, but rather, not too far. Depending on the context it could be as little as 20 metres or as far as 20 kilometres; don’t worry about it, it is a hangover from my Kiwi rural youth.
So without further ado the next kilometre was on a rather deceptively pleasant cycle-path. Pleasant because it is wide-smooth-asphalt with gentle lips on and off the minor crossroads. Also pleasant because it keeps you well clear of that busy, narrow, two-lane, tram-tracked, truck-infested, 70kph, Klaipėda/Vilnius road. Deceptive because of pooch-dragging-pedestrians. Being on the edge of town and a smooth path alongside lovely mowed grass, it attracts abluting dogs and their stubborn reluctant owners. I usually see them a mile off, I ring my bell to tell them to get off the cycle path, most times they oblige, but what I cannot see is if the dog is attached to a lead or not. I cannot understand what is going through the heads of these people who move off the cycle path but leave the dog attached to an almost invisible lead, strung across the middle of the path. I have not strangled a dog yet through accidentally running over its lead, but the day is coming.
At the end of this stretch the cycle path crosses over a rather busy secondary road and weaves its way out of town. It travels over too many driveways, too close to kiosks and bus stops that are propped up by gaggles of swaying drunks, and suffers from a couple of sharp, unnecessary inclines. So though I knew that the next 3km would be busy, narrow and shoulderless, I chanced it, knowing that things were about to get worse.
It did indeed get worse: I had chosen to cycle the next 18km south on a dual-carriageway. There weren’t a lot of options. The official number 10 cycle path continues another 4km before turning south and disappearing altogether. And I really do mean disappearing, literally in the spring the track goes through a ploughed field and one finds oneself pushing one’s bike through rows of potatoes. At the end of this field it is wise to pick up a large, long stick to beat off the packs of dogs which lay claim to the corrugated, muddy road that doubles as the cycle-path. Wherever there is respite in the corrugations, there is deep sand that just sucks in heavy pannier-laden bikes such as mine. So the dual-carriageway it was.
The one good thing about dual-carriageways is that they have large shoulders and I was able to keep far to the right. I peddled my guts out, puffing my way up and down the long, slow, lazy undulations. I didn’t know what the law was and though I had seen many cyclists on this road, I hadn’t seen any that looked sober, so I wanted to be quick, just in case. I was quite relieved when the police passed by without giving me a second look and even more relieved when I arrived at the settlement of Dituva, the end of the dual-carriageway and my first planned stop.
Stay tuned for chapter 2.b and learn about being wasted in the Soviet Union.
Are you confused as to what these numbers are ?, they are part of detailed glossary that will be included in the print and eBook version of this story.