You are now at post Nr. 00 of 06.
If you want to read my posts of this trip in order, voilà:
01 Berlin – Piła (284k) “Muddy Waters”
02 Piła – Zelenogradsk (428k) “Nightrider”
03 Kaliningrad – Riga (402k) “Paved New World”
04 Riga – Valga (EST) (190k) – Narva (275k) “Winds of Change”
05 Narva (EST) – St. Petersburg (RUS)(165k) “Russian Roulette”
06 Vaalimaa (FIN) – Helsinki (200k) “Finnished”
Hell yeah, I can’t wait starting my tour!!
Apparently you somehow found your way to this blog; and I’m glad to have you as a follower. When traveling alone it’s nice to know that this way I can at least share some elements of the hopefully unforgettable experiences I’ll make. If you have any questions, just drop me a line. And if you’re interested, follow this blog by mail (see right column) or on my facebook page.
Today is June 30th in 2016. In 2 days I’ll start my highlight of this year: A bicycle tour from Berlin to Helsinki via Poland, the 3 Baltic states and Russia. So, I’ll pass through 7 countries all in all. The distance until Helsinki will be roughly 2.300 km. We’ll see if I’ll manage to stick with the following itenary. Some of these day-distances are longer than anything I’ve done before.
1 Berlin (GER) -> Pila (POL) (266km)
2 Pila -> Elblag (POL) (204km)
3 Elblag -> Klaipeda (LIT) (242km)
4 Klaipeda -> Riga (LAT) (337km) (maybe 2 days)
5 Riga -> Tallinn (EST) (319km)
6 Tallinn -> Nerva (241km)
7 Nerva -> St. Petersburg (RUS) (214)
8 St. Petersburg -> Torfyonovka (198km)
9 Torfyonovka -> Helsinki (FIN) (196km)
[10 Helsinki -> Pori (maybe) (240km)]
I intend to update this blog on a daily basis with a new post that will cover the trip of that day and the things that I came across. Next to the “soft” aspects of a cycling day, I also want to deliver some slightly more technical information from time to time for those who are interested in the more formal execution of my touring.
This is an introductory post that should also contain some information about the preparation of my tour. And as you can imagine such a trip requires a lot of preparation and antecedents. They can be mainly categorized into:
Since it is late in the evening now and I still have plenty of things to sort out the coming two days I will not be able to write about it in too much detail now. I might add a post some time (e.g. beginning of August). But here are brief answers for the meantime:
1. The idea. why?
I don’t know enough about our Eastern European neighbours and countries. And what I do know stems either from the media or from many non-representative individuals who I got to know over the years (“non-representative” = mostly Jazz-musicians… hardly allows me to draw broader conclusions I guess, hah). This holds in particular for Russia. So, I thought the best way to overcome preconceptions (positive or negative) and knowledge-/experience-gaps is to just go. Doing it by bike is a given; there’s no better way to closely approach unfamiliar terrain.
2. Planning the geography
I recently accquired a GPS device (see gear). So my workflow was to
a) plan the route on google maps and making extensive use of street view to figure out if the pavement is good enough (btw: Germany lags so far behind on streetview! Russia and the Balticum know how to do it). The goal was to avoid highways.
b) after knowing the route I created it again in mymaps.google (apparently there’s no interface between maps and mymaps)
c) From there I exported each day trip as a .kmz file.
d) On gpsies.com I converted the kmz into a .gpx-track
e) then imported the .gpx in Garmin BaseCamp.
f) from there I loaded it onto my Garmin device.
z) additionally I bought paper maps (1:300.000) until/incuding Estonia and will restock for Russia and Finland when I’m there. (why paper maps? see here)
Sounds like a straight-forward process. It wasn’t. I switched forth and back between all those platforms. For example: Originally I had planned to skip Russia alltogether, simply because I wanted to avoid all the visa hassle (glad I changed my mind). So I intended to go via Vilnius and catch a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki. As soon as I was convinced to go through Russia and managed to organize a visa, I changed my route to go through Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg. That also extended the whole endeavor by 30%.
Of course figuring out how to use the Garmin, the BaseCamp Software, the file formats for tracks, where to get digital maps and how to install them and all those technical things also cost a LOT of time and help from various forums with very helpful fellow cyclists.
3. Sorting out the gear
This is the first trip on my new Cyclocross Bike. Last year when I ordered it at Rose, I chose all the components to exactly fit a tour like this one (see gear). I had one year to get to know my new bike. So no open issues there. But there were some items still to sort out:
a) GPS-device. As described in the gear-section, my desire to have an electronic compass quickly escalated to the “need” for a high-end GPS device. Lots of research and a visit at a bikestore let me to the purchase of a Garmin Edge Explore 1000.
b) On this tour there are some day distances that will require me to cycle in the dark or at night. I had no desire to rely on battery lamps but wanted to be sure I have good lights available whenever needed. However, installing a dynamo hub was no option. There seems to be only one alternative on the market, namely rim dynamos by Velogical Engineering who are by coincidence located in Cologne (my place of residence). They were extremely helpful in finding the perfect solution for my purposes and were willing to answer all my questions about the infinite technical options around energy generation and lights. Also choosing the right light required lots of research. In the end I even installed a USB-charger that is powered by the Velogical dynamo; I will find out during the tour how it will perform. The light is incredible though and works very well! (did a test ride). In any case I do not have to rely on electricity sockets anymore which is in line with one of the things that fascinate me most about cycling tours: independence.
4. Getting a Russian visa
While especially St. Petersburg has been on my bucket list for a while, I originally didn’t want to be bothered with all the visa bureaucracy. Especially since obviously I cannot plan my dates of arrival for sure and also not book hotels in advance. However, my desire to see Russia and thus add an additional adventure-component to my trip grew during the past months. In the end I did it. In summary: getting a visa is a lot of work when you’re not travelling the standard way. It cost me a lot of time to figure out what visum I need, what documents are required, where to get an invitation, requesting all the documents, where to apply for it, applying, picking it up, etc… So: If you somehow ended up on this blog because you plan a bike trip yourself and wonder how to get a visa: contact me! It might save you a lot of time!
Let’s now focus on the tour itself. I hope you’ll have as much fun as I expect from this tour. (yes, very diplomatic phrasing here… no warranties. oh and: no twinkle smileys on this entire blog, btw. Hope this is not too confusing nowadays. I might indulge in a “haha” once in a while though 😉 (oh, a twinkle-smiley)).