It’s so good to be back on the road! Keith’s knee is not fully recovered so we’re taking it very easy and keeping a close watch on it, but knee worries notwithstanding it’s a delight to once again be pedalling past rustic wooden cottages, rolling meadowland and peaceful woods.
We’ve slipped into a lazy routine of dozing in the tent until 11ish, then having a late breakfast and packing up in a leisurely fashion to be on the road for around 1pm. We stop for a snack, supermarket shopping and a game or two of backgammon around 3 or 4pm and then do another hour or so of pedalling in the early evening, generally covering 50-60km a day. Tailwinds most days have helped keep the pace up without straining Keith’s knee too badly. Every day it seems a little less swollen and perhaps a little less hot to touch, but recovery feels very slow.
We almost didn’t leave Vilnius on the 24th as at lunchtime Keith noticed that not only was his knee swollen, but his ankle and shin had puffed up too, but there was no pain or heat in them so he decided to stick to plan A and start pedalling; and thankfully the swelling disappeared from his lower leg after a couple of days.
Our lazy schedule means that as well as time for some seriously competitive backgammon, I have amused myself by prettifying the Pino. For some reason, our latest frame came without decals and I thought it looked terribly plain, and so just couldn’t resist the 3D butterfly stickers I spotted in the supermarket. Keith remains unconvinced, but I think you’ll agree they make the Pino look quite beautiful.
Keith has put his time to a more practical application: stringing up a washing line in the large vestibule so that stinky socks can be dried outside the sleeping compartment.
I’ve also finished off all 24 Tarzan books. My favourite line comes in the final book, which was written in 1944. The eponymous hero is helping some Americans beat the Japanese in Sumatra (as you do) and the Americans are unaware of his true identity, knowing him only as Colonel Clayton. Circumstances dictate that ‘the ape-man’ sheds his clothes and takes to the trees. The Americans joke that he’s a ‘regular Tarzan’ but when he single-handedly slays a tiger armed with just his knife, one of them realises that he actually IS Tarzan. His lower-ranking compatriot, who is not so quick on the uptake says “Wot, is he dat Johnny Weismuller?” Well, it made me laugh anyway.
In our own little bit of wilderness, we may not have to build bomas or sleep wedged into the crotch of a tree to avoid marauding carnivores, but we do seem to spend a fair amount of time waging war against somewhat smaller combatants. We’ve encountered far more ticks this year than last. Keith’s had two and I’ve had three so far (one nestled into my belly button, which was particularly irksome to evict), and we’ve removed countless more from the tent before they could make a greater nuisance of themselves. We’re very grateful to Nina and Clive who bought us the tick-tweezers. They’re brilliant!
I’ve also been bitten or stung by various unidentified creatures. I’m pretty sure I’ve had three wasp stings (no sign of the perpetrator but they feel and look like wasp stings) and last night I hopped out of my wet cycling kit into some dry trousers only to have to hop out again a few minutes later as I became aware of a burning sensation on my thigh. All I could find was a small black ant, the same as the ones which we’ve had running over us in the tent for weeks now with no ill-effect so I don’t think it was that, but nonetheless I have 3 itchy raised lumps on my leg.
Our biggest triumph to date in the battle against the bugs has been the purchase of two mosquito-mesh smocks, which we picked up in the supermarket as we were leaving Vilnius. They were less than half price (about £3.50 each) and definitely money well spent. Combined with a mosquito-coil they make life outside the tent much more pleasant. Oh, and by the way, citronella candles don’t work so don’t waste your money.
It took us three days of pedalling from Vilnius to reach the point at which we’d previously turned back due to Keith’s knee, and it was a good feeling to get past that and onto unfamiliar roads. We have left Lithuania and are now in Latvia. On our initial schedule Keith had anticipated being in Moscow by now, and indeed had emailed friends a few weeks ago to say ‘We’ll be in Moscow in 3 weeks’. History has shown that men before him have had similar aspirations and seen them thwarted, so I’ve told him not to make such bold statements in future. Don’t tempt fate and all that.
We stopped for lunch yesterday in the pretty town of Kraslava, on the Daugava river. The river has played an important role in the development of the town, and its coat of arms is a silver boat on a blue background. The boat has five oars to symbolise the five national roots of the town’s inhabitants: Latvians, Russians, Belorussians, Poles and Jews. The leaflet we picked up from tourist info elaborated further on the crest’s meaning: “We are in the same boat, so we should row together.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we all felt like that?
Back in the Vilnius campsite we’d picked up a leaflet of Latvian campsites, predominantly because it contained a rough roadmap that would be sufficient to link the end of our Lithuania map (part way into Latvia) to the start of our Russian maps (a gap of about 100kms) and meant we wouldn’t need to buy a map for Latvia, however, we noticed there was a campsite marked on our route that was next to a lake and offered showers, toilets, sinks, a playground, football, swimming, boating, fishing and internet access. Yay! So, in the interests of resting Keith’s knee we decided to take a day out at the campsite.
After 4km of pedalling along a soggy dirt track we finally found it. There’s a lovely lake, some rowing boats, a nice table and bench above which the campsite guys erected a gazebo to keep the rain off us, and only two other guests: a Swiss couple who are motorbiking around Europe for 4 months.
The facilities were not quite as advertised though. There’s a single chemical toilet, no taps, no showers and no wifi. We were told internet could be provided very slowly via a USB, but, as we were to discover the next day after preparing the blog entry, the USB connection was only available on the first evening we were there, as after that the USB had left the site with one of the guy’s sisters.
For drinking water we’ve been given a 5 litre bottle of water which we’ve been told is drinkable tap water brought in from off-site, but the green gunge on top when we opened it didn’t look too healthy so it went through our water filter before going anywhere near our lips, and when we asked about showers we were told that the lake is clean enough to wash in. That’s as maybe, but it’s damn cold!
Still, it’s lovely and peaceful, with no motor-homes, some frogs hopping about, dragonflies wheeling and diving, a small flock of goldfinches bouncing and chirruping in the trees and even the occasional snake swimming sinuously across the surface of the lake. And, unexpectedly, the waste facilities comprise a row of four burgundy wheelie-bins courtesy of Chichester District Council. We’d love to know the story behind that!
We took a boat out for a couple of hours on the lake this afternoon, and rowed out to an island and back, which was very relaxing and knee-friendly.
PS – This entry was written at the lakeside campsite in Latvia on 29 June, but is being posted from Russia on 2 July. You’ll have to wait for the next blog instalment to hear about our border crossing and what we’ve been up to since leaving the campsite. Keith’s knee continues to improve though, despite some longer days on the bike, so we’re very happy about that.