Bikepacking Baltics – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia

MahinaContent, MahinaJourney2020

The first Kaunas impressions I collect from the bus window. The driver in Marijampole didn’t want to believe me that I had covered the very largest part of my route with the fully packed bicycle. But we were both allowed to get into the bus anyway.

Actually, I would have liked to stop in Vilnius, but it is not on the direct route to Tallinn. The Covid situation has meanwhile become so tense again that everyone assumes that the Baltic states will stick together and not close the borders among neighbours. But you can never be sure in this summer of 2020.

I am more than glad that I found an open campsite in Kaunas. And then again a particularly beautiful – directly on the city beach and swimming lake. In addition to comfortable washrooms, there is also a kitchen. I pitch my tent under a tree, protected from the sun.

Tips for the location: bring fifty cent coins for the oven use and don’t walk to the mini supermarket on the corner, but walk or bike a few hundred meters further. There is a large discount store there.

Unfortunately, I’m in a bit in a hurry, because I already have appointments planned in Tallinn and still want to do most of the kilometers on my bike. So after a short stop at the lake, my tour goes on. The prize question is: in which direction?

As in northern Poland, Lithuania is also sparsely populated. So I lack my beloved strategic points. And I also want to enjoy the route a little, not just cycle next to speedways. Therefore, I make a small detour along the Memel. The bike path does not appear in any app, but leads beautifully along the river and great self-catering gardens. You will find it if you cycle out of town from the campsite until the road rises sharply. There you leave the main road towards the river and follow the path as long as you like.

After I take a short break in the blazing sun at a ferry point, I remember that I have to cycle on to the next point. And from that point the rest of the day became adventurous…

My next overnight stop is an apple farm just outside Joniskis – at the other end of Lithuania, just before the border with Latvia. But first I have to get there.

It’s too long to cycle the whole distance, more than 200 kilometers. I can’t find any open campsites along the way, so I cycle to the small town of Kedainiai and buy a train ticket. Unfortunately, the train does not leave immediately, but only in the early evening. So no chance to set up my tent before dark. But at least once more time to fill up my provisions bag.

As it is already getting dark, I arrive in Siauliai. Also a small town in which only a few people are on the road. I make my way to my sleeping place. This is the first night on the tour in which I really froze. Since it was still sunny and warm during the day, I have of course also in the evening still my short cycling clothes on. A big mistake!

Because when the sun is gone, it gets cold incredibly fast. Against the darkness, however, I am quite well equipped. In addition to my bike lights, I still have my solar lamp with me, so that drivers can see me in any case. Nevertheless, I am pleased when I discover the colorful gate of the Sunny Nights apple farm. The owners have left it open for me and I can finally go shower and set up my tent.

The next morning I have enough time – and daylight – to look at the farm. Everywhere are apple trees full of small green apples. In the center is an old house, which once served as a post office and is probably the oldest in the village. Next to it there is a modern lounge with a covered terrace. Although it is no longer quite so warm in the sun, but I like to sit here to work. Besides, I like the company…

Nevertheless, I must also leave this beautiful place. And think about whether the tent is still the most comfortable place to sleep. At least I have two practical drinking bottles with me. One with water filter for the thirst and a metal bottle, which I can convert in the evening to the hot water bottle. In retrospect, I’m amazed at how much difference in temperature and cold my body has endured at the end of the summer – without catching a cold.

Just behind the apple farm is the border town of Joniskis. Where cities in the region are more like larger villages. Wherever possible, I buy provisions and fill up my water bottle. Then the route continues dead straight across the Latvian border and to Jelgava, where I take a break and look at the city.

Quite unintentionally, I almost become the attraction on a wedding photo. However, I can just avoid this honor. I do not think that a well-dressed wedding party really wants to have a sweaty athlete with fully loaded bike on such important photo.

After a few more kilometers past old farms and small villages, I arrive in the vacation paradise just outside Riga.

The Jurmala campsite is right behind the dunes. And as the tent owner, I have an advantage: I can sleep right next to the path to the beach. So my towel and I forget about working between the bike routes and have a really nice relaxing day on holiday.

Besides the beach, the centre of Jurmala is also worth a visit. Besides many old wooden houses, there are also interesting delicatessen shops and a pastry shop with local specialities. I can understand why the city dwellers treat themselves to a break here.

However, most people seem to take my route the other way round. There is a well-developed cycle path between Jurmala and Riga, so city dwellers can quickly get to the beautiful beach – or bikepackers can ride comfortably from the beach to the city centre.

After Google Maps plays a little trick on me and steers me in the direction of Riga City Camping, but has probably forgotten the bridge over the river, I reach my next sleeping place after only a short time and thus have the opportunity to take a look at Riga at my leisure.

Although there are many great cycling routes, especially around the Daugava, I can recommend a short walk from the campsite to the city centre. At the foot of the big bridge, just before the city beach, there is a small biscuit shop full of goodies. Be sure to stop by and then walk to the shore. Or first into the city centre with its historic colourful houses, cafés, restaurants and trendy shops.

From Riga, there are two options for my onward journey. either I cycle from the Latvian capital along the coast towards the Estonian border. Or I take another bus to Pärnu and then have a few days to explore my new home country.

I decide on the second option and set off for the bus station early in the morning, despite the wet equipment. At least I can catch up on sleep on the journey. I dry my tent later under the Estonian sun.

There are several holiday villages along the Estonian coast. At first I’m surprised that I don’t find any campsites, but later I’m told that tents aren’t that popular and Estonians prefer wooden cabins.

I sleep in one of these on my next stopover by the sea. The Varbla Holiday Village looks deserted at first sight. I am all the more pleased to meet another bikepacker who had come from the opposite direction. Together we explore the area, give tips and cook together.

The next day is really busy and we can watch a wedding in the restaurant next to the small harbour. On the day of departure, the whole sea in front of the village is full of sailing boats. Obviously a few people got up early.

Even though the idea of just sailing on is tempting, I get back on my bike. Unfortunately, I can’t continue directly along the beach, so I make a small turn inland again. And I make the big mistake of taking too little drinking water with me. At this point, I would like to praise my filter water bottle, into which I fill rainwater, completely out of my mind. I only noticed the whole thing in the evening, but at least it didn’t have any negative effects. I also take water from above once again. In total, I got completely wet seven or eight times on my tour. For two and a half months on tour, that’s actually not such a bad record. You get used to it. I just wonder what the accommodation staff were thinking when such a wet bicycle zombie arrives with mud-covered equipment.

At least the receptionists at Roosta Holiday Village didn’t let on that they were surprised, and shortly before the end of my tour I was allowed to spend the night in a great red Tiny House. I find this particularly cool, as I’ve always wanted to try out what it’s like to live in such a small space and whether this is also an option for long-term living.

Spoiler: What I have definitely kept is the proximity to the sea.

In Roosta, I especially liked that I had my own warm area, but a direct way down to the beach bar and the sea. I also got to have breakfast and work in the meeting room of the main house. So once again, I had all the necessities of a digital nomad covered. The owner tells me that this is why she has a lot of visitors now, because people want to isolate themselves in this way.

I can understand that very well. Nevertheless, after two nights I move on again – even if not as planned.

Actually, I wanted to take advantage of the public Estonian campsites on the last stretch of road before reaching my destination. The free RMK app lists all forest areas and recreational opportunities. Including a short description of what exactly to expect, what is allowed and what fruits and berries you can find there.

I had already checked out a few places on my tour, including an overnight cabin at the point where the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea meet – very impressive to be up there at the top.

If I had known what was coming later, I might have stayed there. However, I wanted to spend another night on the beach on my last night before arriving in Tallinn. There were two nice options for that on my way. One was at the beach with the singing sand and the other was at a campsite just outside Tallinn. I will make up for both in the summer of 2021, as the weather once again threw a spanner in the works.

At the end of my tour, the weather treated me to another nice downpour. A nasty one, in fact, where everything actually looks great, then the world briefly comes to an end for an hour and everything is fine again afterwards. In any case, after that the topic of the beach was over and I spent the night at a very strange party farm.

At least there was a washing machine and a dryer, so I could cycle neatly and with dry clothes towards the Estonian capital – back to the sea, my tour destination and my new place of residence. When I reach the old town, my bike computer shows a little over 2600km.

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Carolin Desirée Toepfer is the founder & CEO of European company builder Group and Estonian cybersecurity training provider Cyttraction. As entrepreneur, political scientist, computer engineer and prolific international speaker, Carolin has been immersed in technology and coding since her teenage years. With a past as a bridge builder on the challenges of digital transformation, a certified data protection officer and IT security expert, she takes a keen eye on IT infrastructure, future technologies and the social behaviour of humans in the digital age.