I woke at 5 am to lightning and rain, the first sign of anything but picture book sun since I got here. I lay awake too long trying to make a decision I needed to make at 9, not 5: the short direct route to the 3 pm boat across the water to the Curonian Spit was only about 18 km, but I had the option of a 30 km or so scenic wander to see a lighthouse, an ornithological station and a bakery.
I woke up to my alarm at 8, groggy, my inner state matching the grey, slight chill of outside. That moment where you realize the sun-kissed ride will end sooner than you want it to.
The weather app gave a 40% chance of more storms, but I wanted to see the birds and cakes so I ate breakfast pancakes, stole some cheese sandwiches and buckled in for the longer ride.
The first part was swift and calm, the weather overcast but not wet, and I had a tailwind. I reached the decision point super quickly, and kept going out to the end of the spit. The tailwind was working against me and I had a few drops of rain, but I wanted to savour every kilometre.
The bird station was impeccably tidy, with large nets for capturing and ringing birds everywhere. I watched a windsurfer climb into the water, as ungainly with his board until he found his breeze as I am any time I have to haul my bike with my hands. I climbed a lighthouse, and brooded at the sea, and tried to eavesdrop on a tour group, but it was in (calm, stolid) Lithuanian and then translated into (jumpy, excited) Italian. I paid my 2 euros to go into the interpretive centre, but my 2 years or so with my ex the ornithologist meant I already knew the basics (why do birds migrate? Why do we ring birds?) and I didn’t care so much about the specifics.
I ate the day’s cheese sandwiches watching the cleaner scrub out the insides of the large recycling bins. (Tidy!)
I had time to ride back to the town i’d turned at, and found the bakery (by smell!), had a coffee and a couple of biscuits. Read the instructions to get to the harbour with the ferry, which involved 5 or 6 kilometres of nemesis “gravel” roads.
Here is the thing. Note the thing. I looked at my instructions from the tour company, which said “turn off to the town after the bridge.” But the turnoff to the town was *before* the bridge, and — since I lost both my map holder and faith in the directions days ago — I took the first turn, assuming it would be shorter.
The riding was miserable, soft and churned up by tires into hard rhythmic lumps. My back wheel kept getting caught in soft dirt and I skidded here and there, grinding to a halt and almost falling over at least 6 times. Every time a car passed I had to stop, and then portage a bit until I could find a hard enough bit to get moving again on. My audiobook about being raised off the grid by a super religious family who believed the government was out to get them kept me diverted, but I did mutter “oh for fucks sake” at least five times.
I arrived at the end of the road, puzzled about where I was supposed to be, an hour away from my boat time. It was a sweet little community, many boats on little docks, none matching the name of the restaurant or boat I was supposed to find.
I came across a historical re-enactment of some kind, a man in an old-fashioned sailing outfit, raptly watched by a gaggle of German tourists. I showed my paper to a guy who looked mildly helpful and he said “oh, that is over there” — pointed to the opposite side of the river. “You need to go back to the main road and then come down the other side of the river.”
That would be 12 km on that terrible road. That was not going to happen. I did not have time, for one thing, and I just couldn’t bear the thought of it.
Armandu, my helper guy, was helpful. I mimed “that road is so hard on a bike!” He quickly understood my dilemma, phoned a guy on the other side of the river, positioned me to be picked up, joked about the weight of my bike. A man silently drew up a little boat and ferried me and my ridiculous load to the other side.
He had no English, but he put me in the hands of two teenage girls, who told me my boat was right there — gesturing — though nothing about it matched anything on my voucher. They gave me a cup of tea and I waited, a little anxious.
At the exact time, two men came out of the restaurant and fired up the boat. It was just me and a guy with a little backpack and — mysteriously — a small gas can. One of the boat men tried to take my bike but he didn’t have the trick of its weight and it fell over on his leg. I poked him in the belly trying to convey he was going to hurt himself, and yanked it away from him and pulled it up the little ramp, gas can man pushing it from behind.
My instructions had variously called this boat a charter, a powerboat and a ferry, and suggested it took from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I submitted to the unknown, lying down on a bench and reading a book, grateful to be there.
My second last night is in a sweet holiday town on the sea called Nida, full of little holiday homes and families zipping around on scooters. Tomorrow I ride my last 60km, then start the journey home.
I don’t think I could be more chill.