Travelblogs

Cycling Lisbon to Tallinn: The Gear

All in all, I have been very happy with the gear I took with me to cycle across Europe.

Parked in Monte Carlo

Parked in Monte Carlo

Before I left on the trip, the total weight of everything I had in panniers was in the 15 kg range. After the first couple of days, I barely noticed that my bike had any weight on it so this range seems to be acceptable for someone like me. I have created a gear list for people doing something similar who are looking for a checklist of sorts. Below it you will find my comments on some of the gear and what little I would change now that I have hindsight. I will post a separate review on my GPS in the coming couple of days.

 

GEAR LIST:

Trek Lexi SL WSD road bike
Tire change for the bike before I left: Schwalbe Marathon 25-622 28×1.00 700x25C
Two water bottles in racks on the bike frame
Bike helmet
GPS: Garmin Edge 810
Front and back bike lights
Speedometer: Cateye velo wireless (more…)

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Cycling Europe Day 61: Lisbon to Tallinn – Mission Accomplished!

This journey I have been on for the past 61 days was not to end without throwing an important reality in my face: Do not feel too proud, Nadia. Do not think of yourself too highly. You may have determination. You may be able to suck it up at times. But, in the end, you are just a spoiled little brat.

On April 14, 2014 I set out alone on my bike from the European continent’s southwestern corner in Lisbon, Portugal. Sixty-one days later I reached Tallinn, Estonia in Europe’s northeastern corner. It took 56 actual cycling days, 43 of which I was totally on my own. My husband joined me for the remaining 13 cycling days. My original target was to have 59 actual cycling days with 9 rest days instead of the five I actually took.

I cycled a total of 5630 km to get from Lisbon to Tallinn.

While cycling the final 113 km today from Haapsalu to Tallinn, much of which was in the rain, I realized I had learned an important lesson (one of many) on this trip: When you do something difficult for the first time – like cycling in pouring rain – it may seem extremely daunting. When you do it the second time you recall your success the first time and you realize that if you could do it once then you could certainly do it again. When you do it for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th times, what was once daunting becomes somewhat challenging but doable. And every time after it is simply commonplace.

Over a period of 61 days I cycled through pouring rain; gusty winds; scorching, heat-exhaustion-inducing sun; over cold mountains; through flat plains; up and down and up and down roller-coaster hills; and on paved roads, dirt roads, muddy roads, crazily busy roads, and scarily empty roads. I’ve done balancing acts on the edge of steep hills, steered into ditches, coasted down steeply declining winding mountainous roads, through tunnels, along beaches, and besides forests. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 60: One Day to Tallinn!

Today was an absolutely miserable day. It doesn’t easily get more miserable. I loved every last minute of it.

We woke up this morning to the pitter patter of rain on our tent. No big deal. I’ve been in that situation before. I packed the wet tent. We would dry it out once we got the chance. Breakfast at camp was really good and wholesome: oatmeal with cinnamon, bread and jam, boiled eggs, cheese, and coffee and tea. The skies were dark so we put on all our rain clothes. We might as well be prepared for a long, wet today.

It didn’t stop raining all day long.

We got drizzle. We got moderate rain shower. And we got downpours.

None of that would have been a big deal. I’ve cycled in rain before.

If not for the 35 km of dirt roads.

I checked the route the GPS had for us today and it seemed fine. I could tell, based on two-months-worth of experience, that some of the roads were possibly dirt roads. Colin and I decided last night that we’d decide what to do when we reach them.

When we did reach the first dirt road, we both had a what-the-fuck-let’s-do-this moment; except we pretty much stayed in that moment the whole day. Staying on the dirt roads would save us a few kilometers as opposed to going on the main, paved road. As we saw that the dirt road was just going on and on, rather than backtrack, we just kept on it. You see, we had been on much worse dirt roads in Lithuania not long ago. That day, we had no choice but to get off the bikes and pull them through mud. The bikes almost didn’t make it that day. Even with us not on them they kept getting jammed with mud and wouldn’t move. Today, the dirt roads were wet, they had many puddle-filled potholes, there were big gravel stones we had to steer around to avoid toppling over and countless little ones that were unavoidable, and our back tires spit wet sand onto our panniers and backsides. It was an ongoing what-the-fuck-let’s-do-this moment. What can I say. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 59: The Final Countdown – Tallinn Minus Two

I cried today when we crossed my last border from Latvia into Estonia. I couldn’t easily

I have lots of pictures with fun poses in front of this sign. This is the one Colin took just before I composed myself.

I have lots of pictures with fun poses in front of this sign. This is the one Colin took just before I composed myself.

tell you why. It was mostly a feeling of exuberant accomplishment. I cycled from Portugal to Estonia. If you told me two years ago that I would do something like that I would have fallen down in a fit of hysterical laughter. I was also a bit sad that the sign we were standing under would be my last. Those blue signs with yellow stars and the name of a new country had been such a source of joy for me on this trip.

As our day of cycling came to end, all I could think, though, was that I was so relieved this trip was nearly over. Today we cycled more than 100km. I’m tired. I was very tired of cycling every day just before my husband joined me twelve days ago. But his arrival gave me a second wind. That second wind lasted about eleven days. Now it’s gone. I’m still enjoying the trip immensely. But I’m ready for its end. I’m glad I feel this way. Perhaps it will make leaving this wonderful journey behind me and going home a little bit easier.

Latvia and Estonia are both such beautiful countries. They are going to end up being

Some of you asked what the evil eye was. THIS is the evil eye. Just as we were finishing our commemorative pictures in front of the Estonia sign, Colin's bike fell, breaking the air inlet on the tire. He had to change the whole inner tube.

Some of you asked what the evil eye was. THIS is the evil eye. Just as we were finishing our commemorative pictures in front of the Estonia sign, Colin’s bike fell, breaking the air inlet on the tire. He had to change the whole inner tube.

among my favorite from the countries I’ve passed through in the past two months. After we cycled across the border into Estonia we immediately got onto a back road that took us along the coast of the Baltic Sea on our left with woodlands of birches and firs on our right. I wish you could record smell. I would have recorded the smell of Estonia for you. It is so fresh and fragrant. We passed through tiny little ten-house villages on the sea. They weren’t rich people’s villas. They were small middle class homes just standing there with the sea in their front yard and the forest in their backyard. I couldn’t believe there was still beach-side land anywhere on this earth that hadn’t been overtaken by developers and the rich. Children were walking all alone along the quiet road. It must be a safe place, I thought. This must be such a great place to spend a childhood. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 58: From Atlantic to Mediterranean to Baltic

I wish I was smart enough to have come up with that myself. It just happened. I knew

Getting my feet wet for the first time in the Baltic.

Getting my feet wet for the first time in the Baltic.

when I was organizing my route that I’d be on the Atlantic in Portugal, the Mediterranean in Spain, France, and Italy, and the Baltic in Latvia and Estonia. I knew that. Then I completely forgot about the Baltic when the trip started. And I had never thought about this trip taking me from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean to the Baltic. I just hadn’t put two and two together.

I did though a few days ago. Since then, cycling towards today has been tremendously exciting. And now today has come.

Dudes, I HAVE CYCLED FROM THE ATLANTIC TO THE MEDITERRANEAN TO THE BALTIC!!! Woooooooooohoooooooooo!

It was an amazing feeling to get my first sight of the Baltic Sea and to wet my feet in its waters for the first time. I had never really thought about visiting the Baltic before. I live in a country that’s on two seas already. But now that I’m here, now that I got myself here by the sheer force of my own two legs, I am overjoyed.

We saw the Baltic for the first time midway through today’s ride. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 57: My Body Told Me to Properly Visit Riga – My Body Was Right

Listen to your body. I’ve learned that time and again over the years. People about you will always have brilliant advice on what is good or not for you. They will have objections on your lifestyle. They will tell you what to eat and how to exercise. We all have common sense and most of us already know what is healthy and what is not.

I live what I believe is a generally healthy lifestyle. I listened to my body yesterday and it told me I needed a rest. So I gave it a rest.

This morning my husband and I slept in. What that means is that instead of getting up at 6am we got up at 7am. We ate our breakfast slowly, even though neither of us are ever ones to rush through what we feel is the most important meal of the day. We then spent the morning walking around Riga, Latvia’s capital city, and, because I’m listening to my body, I then took a short but much needed nap.

As a rather frequent traveler, I’m surprised and ashamed about how little to nothing I know about the Baltic states. I am incredibly impressed with Riga. It rivals cities like Vienna and Prague in its architectural beauty, in my opinion, yet if you asked me three months ago what the capital of Latvia was, I’d ask you, “Where the heck is Latvia?”

(more…)

Cycling Europe Day 56: Good Latvian Vibrations

When I grow up, I want to be a Latvian motorcyclist.

We crossed the border today from Lithuania to Latvia. The 70km ride through northern Lithuania was similar to the past few days: rural. Latvia, on the other hand, almost immediately had a more modern, urban feel to it.

After reviewing our maps, Colin and I found a route that would allow us to get to Riga, Latvia in one 153km-long day instead of my originally planned three shorter days. We decided we would give it a go and if we got too tired midway we’d find a roadside hotel.

It was a whopper. I was fine till kilometer 100. Then a truck passed me way too close. I screamed but kept the bike under control. That episode just took all the energy out of me. We stopped for a big lunch but nothing gave me my energy back. It was a rough 53km until we reached Riga.

Just after we crossed into Latvia and took our commemorative photos at the border sign, we started off on the major road we were on and heard a police siren give an attention signal behind us. I started to pull over, thinking, “This was bound to happen. We’re on a major road. It’s probably illegal for cyclists to use it. To stay out of Latvian jail, Nadia, CRY!” (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 55: I See Dead People

“What were you thinking about today while you were cycling?” my husband asked me while we were waiting for our lunch in a Lithuanian palace, as one does.

“The dead people,” I responded.

“Which dead people?” he asked rather incredulously.

“All the dead people,” I responded rather matter-of-factly.

“So we’re worrying about all the dead people in the world now, are we?” Colin always says that if I have nothing to worry about I find something to worry about.

Today while cycling I was thinking about and praying for family and friends I know who have passed away. Over the past 55 days, I have cycled by many cemeteries and countless roadside memorials for people who must have died in road accidents. Every time I see a roadside memorial, a cemetery, or even a dead animal by the side of the road, I whisper the Muslim prayer, “We belong to God and to Him we return.”

I’ve often thought about all the people who have ever walked this earth who are now long gone and buried within the soil. My grandfather died when I was in university. My father and uncles went and visited him in his grave when they could. My father is now gone as well. My siblings and I will visit him when we can. I will die one day and my children will visit me when they can. But it’s only one or possibly two generations of people who ever really remember a person after they have gone. When those generations pass away as well, the dead in the ground are remembered no more. (more…)

Guest Post From the Hubby: Cycling With Nadia

This is the first time for me to publish a guest post on my blog. I’m very excited! It is written by my husband, Colin McFadden, and I will only read it with all of you once it is posted online. 

This time last Friday, I was still at work – very early on Saturday morning I got a taxi, then a train, then I walked, then a plane, then a bus, then a train – and met Nadia somewhere in the middle of Poland.

Within an hour of meeting up, we had unpacked and re-built my bike and were sitting in a restaurant having dinner, listening to local musicians who were playing in the square outside – and it seemed that we had not been apart for the previous 6 weeks – when I’d been going to work every day and Nadia had been on this incredible journey.

When I was preparing to join Nadia I went to the local bike shop to get some spare bike parts and some (cool) bike gear for myself. The manager knows Nadia and had followed some of her blog posts – we were chatting about it all and he recalled first meeting her when she bought her bike, probably about two years ago – when she was a complete bike novice – and how it is incredible that that beginner has now become such a keen cyclist.

I nodded and agreed with him – but I knew that that was not entirely true. The planning for this trip consumed Nadia for maybe a month beforehand, and she is obviously 100% focused on it now. She may do other bike trips in the future, but I know that she will not want to be known solely as Nadia “the biker”. She will find something new to move onto – perhaps (probably) something that she has no experience or knowledge of at the moment – but that she will fully expect that she can research, plan and prepare for and carry out.

And that is the inspiration that I think everyone can take from this trip – if you can dream it, then you can do it – that’s what Nadia did.

But then I’m biased – and am just trying to keep up with her!

Cycling Europe Day 54: Toiling in Lithuanian Soil

It always takes a couple of days after entering a new country to understand its roads.

The day started off beautifully.

The day started off beautifully.

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. (more…)