Day 7: Kaisma - Rapla - Tallinn

The first thing I remember reacting to this morning was the quiet noises of Matthew (@ArcticCycler) getting out of his tent, then a short pause followed by a loud "WOW!". I felt, however, that I did not want to get up at 5 in the morning, so I stayed in my sleeping bag and rolled over. A little before 6, the lack of snoring coming from my tent made it apparent to Matt that I was no longer asleep. He soon urged me to get up and take in what I quickly realised was an absolutely stunning morning, complete with a rolling layer of mist on the lake.

In no rush what so ever to leave, we took time to enjoy the view and eat our breakfast. After reaching the main road again we kept the pace slow, allowing our legs an equally gentle start to the day.

Nearly halfway to Tallinn we entered the town of Rapla, where we ended up having an extended lunch by the little stream running through town. We didn't let the fact that we were underneath the droning AC fans behind the mall detract from our enjoyment of this almost luxurious picnic consisting of bread, cheese, yoghurt, strawberries, cherries, juice and other goodies.

After Rapla the road slowly became busier and busier as we started to get closer to Tallinn. Having stuffed our stomachs with way too much food during lunch, our bikes were also moving slowly at this point. Still outside the outer ring road Matt noticed that we were no longer on the recommended route he had pieced together by reading cycling forums. Near the village of Tagadi we cut across to Kiisa where we found ourselves on excellent bike paths which we would follow all the way into the capital. The new route took us through Saku, past the largest brewery in Estonia, and onwards to Tallinn. 

The busy urban traffic of Tallinn was exciting after the hard shoulder of the highways and quiet country lanes I'd mainly been on for the last week. We made our way to old town to pose for the obligatory "I made it!" photos and the 'necessary' twitter, facebook, (foursquare) and Google+ updates. We were both exceedingly giddy at this point, me having completed my tour and Matt proud of the accomplishment of reaching Tallinn from Eindhoven. Mind you, he's on his way to Nordkapp so I recommend you keep following his blog as well.

Seemingly unable to find a suitable café, we headed over to Matt's friend Ranno's place for a quick pit stop before I continued to the Russalka memorial where I waited a few short minutes for Nele, my Couchsurfing host, to show up.

The day in numbers: 111.76 km, 5 h 49 min 24 sec, 19.19 km/h avg, 38.1 km/h max.
Tour total: 700.13 km.

Day 6: Kinksi - Pärnu - Kaisma

The local youth of Kinksi continued their beer and BBQ party into the wee hours, but I still slept well and woke up fairy early. By then I was alone on the külaplats, making my morning routine faster than any previous day. This helped me get an early start and with the weather being cloudy, the cool, oxygen rich air meant I was soon trucking south towards Pärnu at a steady pace.

My only proper stop on my 60 km sprint to Pärnu came in Aruvälja where I enjoyed 2nd breakfast on a bench outside the village grocery store. 10 km later I had to unclip my shoes from the pedals again as roadworks brought traffic to a standstill for a while.

Once in Pärnu I stopped at the main library where I took the opportunity to give the battery of my phone a boost while waiting to hear from Matthew (@ArcticCycler, arctic-cycler.com). I had tweeted him the night before when I noticed he was also heading for Pärnu and would be there around the same time as me. During the hour I spent at the library I almost fell asleep on the chair I was sitting in. Sleeping less than 6h most nights of my tour was starting to take its toll on me.

With my phone battery having enough juice to last the rest of the day, I made my way in the general direction of the beach. I soon received a tweet from Matthew. He was going to Steffani pizza, together with Raimo, an Estonian roadie he'd cycled with since crossing the border from Latvia. Pizzas ordered, Matt and I soon started comparing notes and discussing the road ahead. It immediately became apparent that not only were we both heading to Tallinn, our schedules and planned routes were nearly identical.

Having made the obvious decision to share the road from Pärnu to Tallinn, Matt and I followed Raimo to Hawaii Express, a bike shop where we borrowed a track pump to get our tyres up to nominal pressure. Raimo then proceeded to guide us out of the city to where route 5, which would take us the first 35 km north, started.

For the final camping night of my tour, we endured the 6 km gravel road to Kaisma Suurjärve. After the külaplats in Kinksi, this was the place I had the least advance information about. I had chosen the place purely for its location (100 km south of Tallinn) and even chose to call to confirm there would be fresh water and showers before passing the last shop along the way.

There was a shower as well as fresh water. The shower was adjacent a modern sauna with space for 10-15 people. There was also a well equipped kitchenette, a proper toilet as well as a large lounge complete with leather couches, a stereo and a 50" flat screen TV. The man who came around to hand us the key was also keen to tell us we'd be more than welcome to sleep inside the lodge should it happen to rain that night. The price for all this you ask? 5 euro, for both of us.

Today in numbers: 126.93 km, 6 h 5 min 59 sec, 20.81 km/h avg, 33.2 km/h max.
Tour total: 588.37 km.


Day 5: Kuressaare - Muhu - Kinksi

I got up at a decent hour but somehow my morning routine took a bit longer than necessary, so I was only on the bike a little before 10. Knowing that the ferry from Muhu to the mainland runs every 30-35 minutes and that I'd only have well under 20 km to go once I'd crossed I decided to go for a two stop strategy.

This was also necessitated by the fact that the temperature was close to 25°C and rising already in the morning. Before leaving Kuressaare behind I stopped at the Auriga mall and found a sporting goods shop where I picked up a new pair of cycling gloves. Having also restocked my food supply, I soldiered on to Valjala where a lengthy food and drink stop was on order.

My second stop of the day was in Orissaare for which I had to make a little detour. I'm glad I did, as the sea breeze in the marina was the only respite from the scorching heat I had all day. Immediately after getting back to the main road towards Kuivastu I found myself on the Väikese väina tamm, the causeway joining the islands of Saaremaa and Muhumaa. Here I also enjoyed a bit of a cooling effect from the wind, but being from the side it also made cycling the narrow causeway a little tougher. Once across it was a further 14 km or so to the harbour in Kuivastu. While I truly enjoyed the flat landscape of the Estonian islands, making cycling very easy, it also robs you of an effortless roll down to the dock which you get on most islands in the Turku archipelago.

The ferries, there are two shuttling between Kuivastu and Virtsu, are quite new and proudly boast "Made in Saaremaa" on the bow and aft, visible as you drive off. The staff in the small café on board, though, were not allowed to fill up my bottles with drinking water. I instead stopped at a bar in Virtsu for an ice tea (not the Long Island variety, mind you) and also to find that the water I already had would be more than enough to last until I'd reach the campsite.

With less than 10 km to go I stopped to check for my turn to Voose from a roadside map. It was then that I discovered a potential campsite even closer to the crossroads where I would turn towards Pärnu in the morning. I quickly decided to head for the tiny village of Kinksi instead.

Less of a campsite and more of a village park or fairground, the Kinksi Külaplats initially seemed only moderately better than camping wild. My first impressions were, however, very deceiving as I was able to get electricity for my phone, fresh water (and a bag of homegrown cucumbers!) from the farm only 150 m up the road. The local boys were also at the külaplats, swimming in the pond, drinking beer and blaring music from their car. This was clearly the local pastime, so I decided to swap my lycras for my swimming trunks and joined in.

The day in numbers: 96.66 km, 5 h 1 min 5 sec, 19.26 km/h, 25.8 km/h max.
Tour total: 461.44 km.


Day 4: Sõru - Kihelkonna - Kuressaare

Today I had to get up on time as the first ferry of the day was at 8.15 and the next one would only be at 12. Thankfully it was only a few hundred metres from the sauna raft to the ferry. After I'd boarded and bought my ticket in the café I walked out on deck where I was soon asked where I was from. The question came from Aadu, a farmer from the village of Viira on Saaremaa who had been on Hiiumaa to visit his girlfriend.

Our chat lasted for the rest of the hour long ferry ride and resulted in me being invited to visit Aadu's farm. This would mean another detour for me but the promise of fresh strawberries and potatoes coupled with the fact that it was still early gave me no option but to accept. Well there I was given a short tour of the farm, including a tractor count. Aadu's mother served me potatoes, salad and a piece of well cooked sheep's ribs. Well fed and with water bottles filled from the well I found my back towards the main road heading west along the north shore of Saaremaa.

Along the way I was offered many choices of shortcuts across the island and my destination for the day, Kuressaare. Although the heat was tough to deal with, diluted grape juice helped me stay the course and continue all the way to Kihelkonna, the westernmost point of my planned route. That is, after I decided that the visit to the farm in the morning meant I could allow myself to skip Lümanda and start heading towards Kuressaare. Once I reached the main town of Saaremaa I let my GPS guide me to Piibelehe B&B and camping where I had to sit in the the shade for a while before being able to muster the strength to take a shower. Once I had the tent up I figured it was time to go into the centre to see if I could find a restaurant. As I activated the GPS again a couple of motorhomers, also heading into town on bikes, reacted to the fact the turn by turn directions blaring from my phone were in Finnish. Being countymen in a foreign land we joined forces and made our way to the fortress and a terrace bar that had come highly recommended. Quite understandably so as the service was great, the prices agreeable and the view of the fortress splendid.

With none of us really wanting to eat fish, we got on our bikes again after only one drink each. It didn't take us very long to stumble upon Vinoteek Prelude where the menfolk went for the wild boar while the lady chose the beef. The wine suggestions won support around the table and the desserts were also really good. Feeling quite pleased with how the evening had turned out, we cycled back to the campsite to call it a night.

The day in numbers: 117.88 km, 6 h 7 min 47 sec, 19.23 km/h avg, 30.8 km/h max.
Tour total: 364.78 km.


Day 3: Haapsalu - Kärdla - Sõru

The early bird gets the worm and the lazy cycle tourist misses the ferry. I took my dear time to get ready in the morning and was only on the bike well after 9.30. With 9 km to the harbour in Rohuküla I figured I might just make it, but that it wouldn't matter if I didn't. As I got closer I started to think I actually would be in time after all. In the end I indeed was, just in time to see the 10.00 ferry round the pier.

The next ferry was scheduled for 11.30, so I bought my ticket and spent the next hour having coffee and charging my battery pack in the terminal. The ferry to Heltermaa took a little over an hour so it was close to 13 before I got truly started on my lap around most of Hiiumaa.

The surface of the road got really bad after only a couple of kilometres from the harbour. I tried to push on but elected to take a smoother detour to Hellamaa even though it would add some distance to my daily total. And man am I glad I did. I found the church ruins in the picture hidden behind some trees in a tiny village called Kuri. As soon as I'd taken the photo I was buzzed by a couple of NATO F-16s at MIL power barely over treetop level.

Detour over I returned to the main road which was a lot better as well from that point and almost all the way to Kärdla. There a perfectly smooth bike path started some 2 km before town and would continue for more than 10 km after. In Kärdla I treated myself to a long lunch stop followed by a visit to the grocery store to pick up some waffles and black currant juice. Back in 2007 I learnt from my touring partner that summer, Sergej, that this is an excellent method for coping with the heat while cycling. I diluted the juice to 2/3 with 1/3 water to avoid it being to sweet to gulp down.

I continued on my way and met a few groups of cyclists going the other direction. Once the bike path ended the road itself was decent, but had some sections which were downright terrible with the road bike. Also, although I was on an island and close to the shore I only saw the Baltic sea in a couple of places. Being surrounded by mostly forest, with any village being off route, I made good on my intention to arrive at my destination no later than 19.00.

In fact, I was so far ahead of schedule that I could afford myself a final ice cream stop in Emmaste before continuing to the harbour of Sõru. Once there, I called the owner of the Sauna Raft Sea Rock who soon came down to let me in and fired up the stove. Feeling fresh after a few rounds in the sauna followed by dinner, I spotted a young couple also on bikes looking a bit lost. Having plenty of space in my floating home for the night, I asked if they needed a place to stay. Turned out they were also Finnish but were happy to sleep in their tent. They were, however, unable to say no to a go in the sauna. We talked for quite a while afterwards leading to me only going to sleep at 1 am.

The day in numbers: 98.29 km, 4 h 25 min 44 sec, 22.19 km/h avg, 34.3 km/h max.
Tour total: 246.90 km.


Day 2: Keravere (Oonga) - Haapsalu

(Late update due to me falling asleep before I'd written everything I wanted to.)

Today was both a short and a long day. Short because my planned route for the day was only 20 km and long because I got up quite early and am only in my tent now, well past midnight.

I woke up a little before my 8.00 alarm after sleeping like a baby in the loft above the sauna at Tiit and Signe's summer house. After a while there were noises from the main building indicating that the others were awake as well. A delicious breakfast and a few travel anecdotes later I was moving again in time to reach the main road by 10.00.

This meant I had an hour to cover the remaining 18 km to Haapsalu if I wanted to see the victory day parade (Võidupüha paraad - video). The smooth road and the light tailwind made it even easier. As I reached the city centre a friendly policeman pointed me in the right direction towards the old train station. Once there I parked my bike and soon found a free spot along the barrier, just in time to see the President of Estonia, Toomas Ilves, arrive.

After the parade had left the grounds of the old train station, the crowd started to move as well. I followed suit on my bike, being careful not to run over any unsuspecting toes with my trailer. Soon I heard a Finnish man behind me asking if I was looking for a place to spend the night. When I replied that I was already planning to go to Camping Pikseke he was quick to inform me that he's actually the proprietor. As it turned out he originated from Turku but has lived in Estonia for 40 years. He also explained that the crowd was moving in the direction of the castle as the victory day celebrations would continue there. I entered the courtyard of the castle which was so nice I decided to sit down and have lunch. Having dealt with my hunger I went to the campsite to leave the trailer behind and also pitch my tent.

Not quite full after only having eaten what bread and cheese I had left from yesterday, my random cycling around Haapsalu and along the beautiful Promenaad soon led me to Restoran Jahta by the marina where I found some chicken pasta and a beer with my name on it.

After spending another hour or so rolling around town taking in the sights I decided to pick up some breakfast material and head back to the campsite. I soon found myself in the company of three German cycle-tourers with whom I spent the rest of the evening throwing frisbee, playing badminton and discussing languages, cultures, history and politics.

The day in numbers: 37.69 km, 2 h 20 min 54 sec, 16.05 km/h avg, 31.9 km/h max.
Tour total: 148.61 km.


Day 1: Tallinn - Keravere (Oonga)

I call today day 1 as it was the first full day of riding. Then again, it wasn't even that as I got going only at 11. My discussions with my Couchsurfing host Anleena, involving politics, history and cultural stereotypes, went on for slightly longer than I had intended. It also rained a bit when I woke up, so I was in no hurry to leave.

When I eventually did, the sun had come out and the temperature was already around 25°C. It would get even hotter as the day wore on and the rain, forecast for the afternoon, apparently chose a different route. This also meant that I struggled somewhat with the pace and went through a lot of water.

I started by finding my way to route 4 heading south from Tallinn. After 21 km I took the exit for Haapsalu and, after a 30 minute lunch stop, started heading west on route 9. I stayed on the 9 for the next 50 km, with a second food stop in Risti. After Risti the by then narrow hard shoulder disappeared completely, but thankfully I only had a further 9 km to go to Palivere. Here I left the highways behind and continued on regional road no. 160. In Palivere I had a nice chat with a local truck driver who actually works in Naantali. 

The 25 km along the 160 from Palivere to Oonga offered the only truly enjoyable cycling experience of the day. This road, despite its rough surface, was the highlight of my day on the bike. Beautiful, mostly empty countryside and virtually no traffic had me grinning and singing to myself. At times I even forgot about the slight headwind I had to overcome.

I arrived in Keravere an hour too early, but was met by the sister of one of my warmshowers hosts. Soon I came to realise that the summer house I'd been invited to was quite large and we'd be joined not only by Tiit and Signe but also Signe's parents, the previously mentioned sister as well as three youngsters and little Paula.

After a few rounds in the sauna it was time to eat. I had the privilege to join my extended host family for a lovely Midsummer dinner, complete with wine and vodka. Well fed, I've now turned in for the night in the loft above the sauna.

The day in numbers: 95.83 km, 4 h 29 min 28 sec, 21.34 km/h avg, 31.2 km/h max.
Tour total: 110.92 km.


Day 0: Turku - (Helsinki) - Tallinn

A new year and a new tour. Time to reboot this blog and see if I can do a better job of keeping it updated from now on. One excuse for failing to do so previously would be the fact that I attempted to blog in both Finnish and English all from my phone, while cycle-touring and doing interviews with radio and newspapers.

This time there's just me, my bike and the open road. Speaking of roads, my planned route looks a little something like this.

So far today I've got out of bed way too early, taken the train from Turku to Helsinki and endured Viking XPRS for 2.5h to get to Tallinn. I've also enjoyed a nice cappuccino in Helsinki and an excellent pizza on the outskirts of Tallinn. With regards to cycling, however, today was rather uneventful as I only logged 15km. Traffic in Tallinn wasn't so bad and I mostly encountered friendly drivers who yielded when I needed space. Tomorrow I will start my tour in earnest as I aim to reach Keravere on the west coast where I've been invited to a sauna equipped summer house. Only 95km of Estonian roads separate me from this, the holiest of Midsummer rituals :)

The day in numbers: 15.09 km, 59 min 6 sec, 15.32 km/h avg, 38.0 km/h max.
Tour total: 15.09 km