Täna oli nii tuuline means “it’s very windy today” in Estonian. I should have named my bike Tuule instead of Sigrid.
The thing about wind is that when you’re pedalling, it wraps itself around you and the sound drowns out everything. It’s a loud bully shaking you by the shoulders. Insistent, persistent, roar. Then you stop pedalling and suddenly, it’s gone. From roaring whirl to silence. So that if you say, oof, the wind, to someone not on a bike, they say “oh, is it windy? I didn’t notice.”
Today was 79 kilometres, and it felt like every metre was into the wind. When it’s that windy, everything else recedes. I note the interesting wooden church, the way some of the houses are spruced up and other same vintage houses have peeling paint and sagging eaves, the way that Estonians don’t nod and smile when you greet them — and it’s all a minor key soundtrack. The wind and I, we are in this predominant tussle. Like going on a holiday with someone you’re near to ending a relationship with and all you remember about that magical place is how miserable you were eating that romantic dinner.
Day four is never my best day on a cycling or hiking trip, generally. It’s usually the day where my fatigue shows up. Grabbing the handlebars this morning I had this shooting thought about how much I would love to stay in this town and just wander the windy beach today. Instead I got on the bike and tried to make sense of the directions “make your way out of town following National Cycling Route 1/Velo 10.”
That would be fine if I could figure out which way “out of town” was. Parnu is actually a significant town, with the touristy bit in a little round peninsula I was in the disoriented middle of. Around it is a lot of spread-y apartments and industrial areas. Today I couldn’t even find the cycle route until I’d ridden around for 15 minutes. It turned out to be a block from my hotel, leading me the wrong way down a one way street. Well. Silly me.
I finally found the right signs, but first went the wrong way (which I figured out when my bike computer said I was going south), then had a lot of sighing and pondering when, for example, one bike route sign pointed to across the bridge and another one with the same routing numbers around the bridge… taking me exactly the wrong way along a canal. Much internal harrumphing until I found the actual bike path that seemed to match up with my directions… a nicely segregated paved path but along a very uninspiring divided highway. Then I was out of town, and there was a route choice that I couldn’t make sense of — the bike path had been extended since those directions were written, and my kilometre indicators were not synced with the directions because it had taken me so long to find the route. So I rode for a good hour before I even felt confident that I was on the right road. Not a great beginning.
So I pedalled, and puzzled out that even if I’d taken the more scenic option, I’d still land up back on this main cycle route at around the 26 km mark. So I chilled and trusted that I was going in the right direction… but without the anxiety of determining where to go, I started to notice the wind.
After the hoo ha of getting out of Parnu, the main cycling route was about 5 km inland, paved, and mostly treed on both sides, with the odd farm dotted here and there. Spoiler alert: it all looks like this. Picture riding through Algonquin park in late September. Almost no one around. The only people I’d seen in an hour were in a stopped car, with an older man coming out of the forest with a small bucket, an older woman sitting in the car. Mushrooms? They’re big on mushrooms here. No one else. Just riding. Always into the wind, always way more effort to manage 17km/hr than I imagined.
Today I had to smuggle my pilfered cheese sandwich from breakfast by wrapping it in a cloth napkin and tucking it under my jersey. The hotel had a fancy dining room that offered sparkling wine with breakfast. Definitely a beach town, though in a slightly formal, frowsy 1920s hotel kind of way. I start thinking about that cheese sandwich about an hour into the ride, and realize I’m actually hungry. I take an actual break, sitting on the ground beside the road with my sandwich and apricots.
I’m sore as I ride, body a bit tired, and saddle weary. I start doing what I think of as a cycling vinyasa — stand up off the pedals to relieve my butt, sigh involuntarily as the numbness wears off and ache spreads hard through my body, utter an involuntary f-uuuuuu-ck — take a deep breath in — let my bike roll forward with my feet locked in one position while I encounter my shadow, then exhale sharply as I sit down. I repeat this every few kilometres, noting dispassionately that the f–uu-c-k seems to be optional but the rest of it isn’t.
This is one long, not that interesting road, and the trees, which are a bit boring, are better than the open fields, which are windier. I don’t like feeling restless like this on my bike, where I’m impatiently ticking off kilometres, thinking about the next possible meaningful stop. One of the main reasons I ride is for a kind of mindfulness — to just be in the moment, be with what is, not be attached to anything. I write about this a lot, and it’s a steady practice. But it’s hard on days like this — I want the 5km segments to tick past faster, and I get attached to anticipating a treat. The trip notes say there’s a restaurant in Tostamaa, and since I’ve eaten my cheese sandwich and apricots at 1115, I figure I’ll eat lunch before arriving at my destination, which I haven’t generally been doing. Tostamaa is about 20 km before my guesthouse for the night, so this seems perfect. I start to happily count the kilometres, irritated when I can’t push myself faster than 13 or 14 km/hour.
I stop occasionally to look at a church, ponder what Santa-related activity could possibly be happening on September 17, snack a bit, intentionally drink water. All the time happily anticipating the Coetz café in Tostamaa.
And I find it, and two men in delivery guy type uniforms are eating lunch on a sunny sheltered back patio. And I go in the front door and there is a sign that — even though I don’t read Estonian — I know with a sinking heart means that it’s closed for an event.
Sure enough, I go in and the place is empty but the tables are set with a custardy jammy dessert, and the nice young woman behind the counter tells me that I could have soup but that the circus is in town, and the restaurant is closed to feed the circus people.
I don’t want the soup, but I do have a spinach cheese pastry thing and a cup of tea. They offer me fresh honey, and I realize I’m coughing from the wind. The tea and honey is perfect, and I wonder why I don’t make this a treat at home. So simple, so perfect.
I spend a pleasant half hour in the sunshine, poking at my maps and looking around. The two guys eating lunch resolutely ignore me — it IS a thing, how differently the Estonians greet my presence than the Latvians — and then go away. The circus people arrive and just look like regular people. I ponder how the air is so still until I’m actually on the bike. Does the bike EVOKE the wind? I think of the line from a Magnetic Fields song that I used as the preface to my dissertation “You need me /like the wind needs the trees /to blow in.”
I’m babbling a little in my head.
As I get back on the road, I feel raindrops despite the bright sunshine. It’s only about 13 degrees, and the wind is vicious in this last bit. I don’t want to be totally focused on my destination — I want to be in the ride — but I’m also tired. I give in to something I rarely do on a bike, and spend the next hour listening to CBC Ideas, first on Vimy then on expletives.
I finally turn off onto a gravel road for the guesthouse on the coast as a woman with Tourette’s is telling her story. I find myself in… a wind farm. Indeed. I could be a scattered seed for this farm. The turbines are stunningly big and whirring around quite industriously. Of course they are. I break out the peanut m&ms I’ve kept for a moment of fatigue and push on… grateful for the slight downhill, but knowing that I will resent it in the morning. No, be here now. It’s sunny and the bike is feeling ease. Don’t worry about tomorrow. A few more confused signage moments, and I find my hotel at the edge of the world. No cars, no other guests. Just me and the lovely woman Lea doing everything. I discover I’ve lost the key for the bike lock (I knew that was going to happen), and imagine right where I’ve let it drop and forgotten to pick it up at the morning’s hotel. It’s a good thing this is so remote.
I have a cup of tea and some biscuits on my little deck, the wind whipping everything around but making me feel alive, here, on the fringe of the Baltic Sea. Terns, gulls, marsh grasses, white waves. A comfortable room with a big view of the sea in a land with no night.