Pushing my bike into motion on the gravel roads this morning took a force of will. It was raining, and the soft loose gravel was even less appealing wet than it was yesterday. I had said no when the woman serving me breakfast had offered to drive me to the nearest town to get past the gravel roads. Once again, Latvians prove to be the nicest people on earth — this is one of the few times I’ve encountered when someone offering to help me while cycling actually suggests something useful to a cyclist’s logic. I toyed with the idea, but my completist self prevailed. Unlike guided trips, I’d planned this one with no transfers after the train to Sigulda. And I was going to do it.
Anda had made me a vast breakfast, and I tucked away a cheese sandwich in my pocket. Something told me it might be useful. I only had one small coffee, envisioning a 15 km wet gravel road ride into Limbazi, then finding a sweet café for coffee and a pastry. Earned.
The rain made the gravel roads around the farmland less harrowing than yesterday, tamping them down a bit. I sailed along at a soggy, rapid-for-the-terrain 18 km /hour. The rain made it chilly, but the roads were nicely Nordic. White birches, brooding forests.
After about 14 km, I began to squint at the directions from the bike tour company. Hm. It didn’t look like I was supposed to go into Limbazi. What about my cakes and coffee?
I looked at the actual map and decided it was fine if I veered off course. I turned right, eager for my treats. It’s Monday, surely this little town would have a place for me to warm up, a little fire. It started pouring and gusting wind as I rode up and down the streets. One sign I thought meant “cafe” turned out to be a clothing store, not open. An apothecary, small grocery store, tire shop. Rain streaming off my helmet, I asked a man holding his hood over his head as he talked on the phone — “coffee?” — he pointed down, mimed a hill, I went in that direction and… everything looked tight shut against the rain.
I remember having this experience in Iceland thinking there would be a sweet little bakery with cakes whenever I wanted it. But the population just didn’t support it. I rode out of Limbazi, having seen little of what my cycling guide writer had described as “the spirit of Limbazi.” Unless that spirit was “stay in the damn house it’s horrible out.”
I cycled back to the junction and realized that I was actually quite cold. “Surely there must be a tea shop somewhere along here, the main route to the sea?” I didn’t see one, but pulled into a small food shop. I mimed tea. The woman took me to a section of teabags. I looked sad, and indicated my warmer shirt. “May I?” She let me change in the room full of soda and freezers, pretending to check something on the other side of the room in case I was not what I appear. What do I appear?
I left the shop with a warmer shirt and dry raincoat on, minus tea. I spent at least the next 10 minutes of the ride thinking about nothing but the sheer pleasure of a warm dry shirt when you are cold and wet.
I rode that road for another 40 km without encountering another pedestrian or a sign of commerce of any kind. A white stork walking slowly across the road, more birch, fields of hay and canola, purple thistle, tall huge stork nests. The roads are pristine, without a single mar of litter.
At around the 45 km mark, I accepted that there was going to be no coffee, no tea, no little cakes. I pulled off to the side of the road and ate my pilfered cheese sandwich standing up over my bike, a handful of dried apricots I’d brought with me. The rain had mostly stopped, and I consulted the directions and the map again. Hm. More gravel coming on this road,, and instructions to turn onto an even lesser gravel road for about 18 km.
I looked at the actual map, and deduced that the secondary cycling route had me continuing on this road to the coast. The mapped route from my bike tour company had me crossing fields and a river and coming into the town for the night on another gravel road. I did some math and concluded that continuing straight to the coast on this road equalled less gravel. “Surely there must be a bike route up the coast?” I thought.
The thing about traveling at all, and riding in particular, is that you really really have to accept what is. It’s a constant theme with me — probably the thing I have to engage with most when I travel. You can plan your ASS off and you will have imperfect clothes, a bike load that feels off balance, a blithe instruction that says “take a train” that actually requires about 12 steps to decode and do. You can’t travel by bike or in unexpected places and expect perfect flow. (I can’t remember how many times our car broke down in Uganda on the same route). But somehow, I still feel pegged to certain aspects of my planning — like following the route set out by the bike company, even though I am ALONE on my bike in Latvia, I have a map, and I know my destination.
So when I got to the turn, I paused. It looked sinky. I stayed on the road I was on. 13 km to Saulkrasti, it said, where I would turn and head north along the coast.
I’m not gonna lie: the road I stayed on was not easy. Corrugations, soft sand tugging at my back wheel, logging trucks, the constant frogger dance of trying to find the one line that was steadier than the others. Intermittent rain. And then the road became asphalt again, and I finally came to a junction — and the sign for Saulkrasti — my last hope for a cheese bialy, a coffee — pointed one way, and the cycling route the other. I tried to google map but google has not yet located cycling routes for the Latvian/Estonian border area. I went with the little blue “cycling route 7” as the sun came out. 65 km or so, still no stop, more than 3.5 hours.
I rode and it became town, and I crossed the A1, the main Baltic highway. Two lanes, but fast. I rode through the town and found a lighthouse, took my photo on thr edge of the Baltic Sea — and yet, still no tea shop. “I’m almost at Ainazi,” I thought. “There I shall find solace.” I start to think in broken, archaic English on the bike after a while.
I poked myself north, and realized I was joining the Autostrada. That can’t be good. Many trucks, speeding cars. But wait — a sweet bike lane alongside it!
I zipped along the bike lane for four or five kilometres, avoiding bleary and presumably hungover teenagers carrying creeping bags that had escaped their moorings, backpacks. A few trying to hitchhike, a whack on a bus, several dropping their stuff in the path. Two girls walking barefoot in the gravel, holding their shoes, on the other side of the highway crying a little. The residue of a music festival or something
I’m preening over the wisdom of the Latvians for making this beautiful bike path, this perfect accompaniment to the busy highway, wondering why we can’t do this. When it stops. For the next 8 km or so, I straddle the not-quite-shoulder, try not to be blown away by the trucks. Try to decide if this is better than the sinking gravel roads on the planned route.
There is no way to know. There only is.
My hotel is one km from the Estonian border, in a small fishing village. Suddenly it’s sunny with blue skies. I am covered in mud that won’t come off in one shower and damp, unciviled in this clean, quiet, friendly hotel. There’s a cosy restaurant, and a nice woman at the desk. I order fish and vegtables and a small beer, shower, come down and sink into my meal, a cosy chair. Two older women who followed their lunches with a beer each toast me.
Later, I find a shop selling ice cream and walk around eating it. I think one house is haunted and abandoned until I hear a baby cry in front of it. I’m just tired enough to let the thought that it’s a ghost baby wash over me. But it’s too sunny and the town has a sleek wind-powered energy supply, and Latvians are too nice to let ghost babies take over their towns.