It always takes a couple of days after entering a new country to understand its roads.
Today was supposed to be a pretty straight-forward and easy 55km cycle. That’s a nothing day. There is a major road, the E67, that links Marijampole, where we spent last night, with Kaunas, today’s destination. We entered Lithuania on that road yesterday and it felt very unsafe. Yesterday, the E67 was a busy single carriageway with a very narrow shoulder and lots of trucks rushing about as if it were the end of the world. We got off it yesterday as soon as we managed and found a nice country road that took us into town. We planned stick to country roads again today.
I checked my digital map and found that, with a bit of smart navigating, we could stay on country roads without going too far out of our way. It was going to be a short day so we had time on our side to deal with any potential difficulties.
The day started out beautifully. It was bright and warm. We made a couple wrong turns to start but were soon back on track. We cycled on nice, quiet, well-paved country roads, Colin waving at the cows and pointing out all the storks to me. Northern Poland and southern Lithuania are full of them – storks, that is.
We came up to a junction. Ahead of us and to our left were dirt roads. To our right was a semi-decently paved
road. According to my map, the road ahead of us was a proper road and the one we needed to be on. I figured that only the first part of it must be a dirt road and that it improves ahead. We got off our bikes and started walking, not wanting to damage them on the gravelly path.
It was nice. The weather was gorgeous. My husband and I were walking alone somewhere in Lithuania. We came up to a small lake, stopped, and took some pictures. Then we headed off again. As soon as we were too far from the main road we had left earlier, the mud started. At first it wasn’t so bad. We kept telling ourselves a road was bound to appear soon. But as we walked farther and farther, the mud got wetter and deeper. It was a nightmare. The bike tires gathered mud that then collected around the brake pads and at the tops of the tires, which would then refuse to turn. So we found sticks and regularly removed the accumulating mud from around the tires. We would advance a few meters then need to stop again to remove the mud. We tried walking in the tall grass. But the grass would get caught in the wheels and the chain. I started lifting the front of the bike so it was moving only on the back tire. That worked. But I wasn’t strong enough to maintain that for several kilometers. So we just kept pushing the bikes through the mud, hoping that they would eventually come out of this half-functioning.
We must have spent an hour-and-a-half in that mud until we reached packed dirt and then finally a paved road. We stopped by the side of the road, each of us busy cleaning our bikes from the mud so that the wheels would turn and cleaning the bottoms of our clip-on shoes.
The roads after that were quite nice. We stayed on country roads, but ones that were
well-paved. What I learned was that Lithuanian roads on my digital map that have a normal name have the potential of being dirt roads. But roads that have a number are most likely paved. We had to join the E67 for a short bit, but it was a double carriageway with a broad shoulder so it wasn’t too bad.
Lithuania so far seems largely agricultural. The towns are small and the fields in between are vast.
We reached Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, just before 3pm. Colin was starving. He rushed ahead of me and cycled around like a headless chicken trying to find a place to eat. I had a system for these things that he wasn’t taking advantage of because he was too hungry to stop and let me handle it. He had gone past the town center without even realizing it. It had started pouring rain. I called out to him, “Cooooooolin!” But he couldn’t hear me above the sounds of his growling stomach, the pouring rain, and the rushing cars. I eventually caught up with him.
“What is it we’re doing, exactly?” I asked him. “I’m looking for a place to eat,” he said, a crazed look in his eyes. “Well, if we keep going in that direction we probably won’t find anything. My GPS tells me we’ve already passed the town center. So it must be somewhere behind those buildings.” “OK. Let’s go then,” he said, crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing while the signal was still red. Several turning motorists looked upset as he kept on his way. He cycled ahead, still with no plan. After a bit, I caught up with him again. “Colin, if we find out where the hotels are, we’re sure to find some restaurants nearby.” “On with you, then,” he said. So I checked my GPS for the nearest hotels and found several straight ahead. Only 50 meters down the road I found the first, which was a hotel and restaurant. “Colin, here’s one,” I said. “Would you like to stop here?” “Well, I wouldn’t have personally chosen this one, to tell you the truth,” was his reply. It looked a little fancy pansy for his taste, I think. “Well, let’s keep cycling ahead. I’m sure there are more,” I said. By now the rain was so heavy that after only a few steps Colin stopped, looked back at me, smiled, and said, “I really don’t fancy walking around in this rain. Let’s just go eat there.” So we ate there, watching the bikes get washed down in the rain outside, and eventually ended up getting a room in the hotel as well.
We’re hoping it dries up just a little bit so we can go out for a walk in Kaunas this evening.