The longest journey


Me in LiepājaThe following text is a description of the longest one day bicycle trip of my life (I could use the expression “so far” but who am I kidding – I will never top it especially considering that over the past few years I`ve rarely ridden more than ten kilometers a day). I took it on August 10, 2001 with two of my friends (nicknamed Zin and N.R. respectively). The overall distance was around 240 kilometers.

Looking back at it the reasons for taking this death-march don`t seem that important but my motivation back then was pretty simple. Me and Zin had gotten a “no” for participating in a boat trip with some friends because (as it could be easily concluded) we weren`t “cool” enough. So we decided to have an adventure of our own – to go by bicycle to the port city of Liepāja to watch the “Liepājas dzintars” music festival there. Actually we weren`t that much interested in the festival as in proving that we could master such a long trip at all. N.R. came along because he didn`t have anything better to do (by that I mean to say that he didn`t have a big motivation to complete the “race”).

There wasn`t much of a planning before the trip – I borrowed a tent from my sister, we took the minimum required luggage and decided to start at 7 AM on the morning of the 10th of August. Theoretically we were prepared to split the distance for two days because in some ways it was certainly over our heads but at the same time we believed that the distance could be mastered over a single day, thus the early start.

Our choice of the route was simple as a rock – we decided to ride the entire distance on the Riga-Liepāja highway which didn`t promise much thrills but was the shortest and fastest way. Plus back then we almost never took any minor roads despite the fact that all our bikes were essentially MTBs.

So we began at seven. The original plan was to make a 10 minutes stop after either every one hour of riding or after every 20 kilometers (which was basically the same thing). Our equipment for the ride included: one tent, three sleeping bags, some spare clothes, some sandwiches and a couple bottles of water.

The early stages of the day were easy and pleasant. The day was neither cold nor hot, we were feeling great and ready to kcik the ass of the road. We were young (my friends were 18, I was 17 at that time), I had bought a new bicycle just a couple of months earlier and we had had much practice over shorter distances, so there was no reason why we couldn`t succeed with our plan. Close to the Riga city limits we overtook a couple of Finnish bikers who certainly weren`t on the road for the first day. But we were much faster and younger than them, so we had nothing to fear.

The first few relaxation stops weren`t really needed – we could go on for some time without too much fatique. Personally I`m not a big fan of making stops during bicycle trips as they tend to make you lose the riding rhythm but we all understood that on a distance this long it wouldn`t be wise for us to play heroes.

My personal experience suggested that there were two stages of a bicycle trip when I was known to experience exhaustion – the first one was very early – around 20-30 kilometers from the beginning, another – at around 60-70 kilometers. Luckily we had passed the first tricky part, so I knew that even if the strength would leave me later on we still would have enough time to make at least half the planned distance to Liepaja by the end of the day. But for some reason at around 60 kilometers I was feeling just fine and as the road had many downhill sections we were rolling just great. Still there was a problem – by we I mean only me and Zin, meanwhile N.R. was experiencing difficulties. First, he had made a mistake by putting too much weight on his shoulders (literally – his bag was too heavy) and second he just wasn`t feeling that great. It was a bad situation in a way that when one of the riders gets tired in a race like this there`s little you can do. We made some stops but as I already stated previously – a ten or even 20 minutes stop doesn`t change a thing – in fact I believe that you can`t regain much strength without at least a couple of hours of complete relaxation – that means sleep. Yes, there are ways like energy drinks and stuff like that but sitting for ten minutes on a bench doesn`t give you the same kick as a can of spinach.

So for quite long periods Zin and me were riding a couple of kilometers in front of N.R. I know the feeling when you`re behind by such a distance and are feeling terribly (for quite a few times I`ve been in the position myself), there`s little nice about it. But – and that`s a fact – there isn`t anything that the other riders can do about it. By riding on a slower pace you don`t gain anything – if you`re out of juice, you`re out of juice completely and there isn`t a slower speed at which you still are feeling comfortable, it is equally hard to ride at 25 km/h and at 15 km/h in such a state. But still you can`t help from feeling that the people who aren`t waiting for you enough are complete jerks who have dragged you into something that isn`t right for you at all. (here I speak in general and not about the feelings of N.R. in this particular situation, as I wasn`t miraculously reading his mind).

The last of N.R. we saw approximately 100 kilometers in to the race, slightly before the town of Broceni. Zin and me took a small loop to the center of the town (slightly left off the highway) to buy some drinking water. As we learned to know later on Broceni was the final destination of the day for N.R. - he hopped on a bus there and returned to Riga. So then we were two.

There isn`t much to describe about the road – it was a regular Latvian highway with a bad asphalt quality, no infrastructure for bicycles and a boring terrain around it. Now I don`t even understand how we were able to make it at all – even by car the road is long and event-less but on a bicycle when your butt hurts like hell and your speed is painfully low it is a completely different level of boredom.

It was around noon (or maybe one o`clock) when we entered the town of Saldus – the most serious town on the way to Liepaja. As it is nearly in the middle between Riga and Liepaja we could have even stayed for the night if we had wanted to leave the rest of the distance for day two. But it was surely too early to call it a day, so we only had a lunch in Saldus (cheap and relatively tasty food on plastic dishes) and went on. Actually we didn`t really go on – for approximately an hour we sat next to the Saldus city limit sign regaining strength. I`m not sure that we were really that much tired but we certainly knew that we would grow very tired pretty soon.

Back on the road we had a relatively funny episode. We were sitting on a bench during one of our many stops when a car stopped by us. A fellow asked us if we knew the road to Kuldiga, we replied that we weren`t local and didn`t know much about geography anyhow. Only after having answered we noticed that at the moment we were looking at a map of Latvia and considering how far we already were. And you know what? Kuldiga is in Latvia.

Anyhow we rode on. As time and kilometers went by it became harder and harder to go on. At around 160 kilometers both of us were already pretty much exhausted. But what could we do apart from going on? Nothing, so I think. We just rode on, of course we had to stop more often now and the stops themselves also grew longer, but we were slowly moving towards our goal. In some small village we bought orange juice (not fresh orange juice but some synthetic “nectar”) and at least to me the juice gave something similar to second breath. The final kilometers from Grobina to Liepaja were long as hell anyhow. It was past 9 in the evening when we entered Liepaja, more than 14 hours from the beginning of our trip. The ride through Liepaja wasn`t that difficult as we had the feeling of mastered a devious task but I still was feeling very dizzy and when my sleeping bag fell of from the handle of the bike I even nearly missed it.

Of course we were way too tired to even think about something as crazy as going to a concert, we just wanted make it to the beach in order to put our tent up there. For some reason finding the beach wasn`t as easy as it should have been, we got a bit lost and found ourselves in a cemetery but at the end we reached our destination anyway.

On the next morning we decided that we had enough fun already and bought tickets on a train back to Riga.We had several hours before the departure of the train, so we took a very, very slow ride to the city park (next to the place where the music festival was held, if I remember it correctly), sat on a bench like boring old men and then – here comes the most exciting part – the last 2 hours in Liepaja we spent on the train station looking at pigeons and some amateur taxi drivers who offered to take anyone willing to Riga. As we had bicycles and not much money we weren`t interested. So we waited for the train. And then we went home. End of story.

I doubt that this experience taught us much (if anything). We had proven to ourselves that we could do it and we had also understood that there wasn`t a necessity to do so. But this is the life. Even if your journey isn`t a spiritual one and you don`t learn shit from it, it`s still in some ways sweet and sad to look back on it and reminiscence the days when you could do something this useless and not even regret it for a minute.