Tuesday, September 30, 2008

European MTBO Lithuania

The Spit is quite famous in Lihuania because it has great barren sand dunes, open pine forests and beautiful coastline. It is an extremely narrow strip and halfway along it turns into Russia (Kaliningrad) and you can go no further. From Klaipeda on the mainland you have to catch a car ferry across. Julian and Jana came with us for a look. We arrived in the quaint little seaside of Nida (right near the Russian border) just in time to participate in the opening ceremony – much to Julian and Jana’s amusement.

The following morning we hopped up and headed out on the Middle Distance course starting on the jetty in the centre of Nida township.

Chris heads off...

The course was super tricky through the houses, followed by a fun easier bit out in some forested dunes, then back in to the funky red and white stripped lighthouse before whizzing back down to the wharf. The day before on the Model Map Chris had a flat tyre and his chain broke, so he was relieved when his bike survived the course.

We had a farewell coffee with Julian and Jana in the sun (it was the first sunny day in about 3 weeks) before they caught the bus and headed off the spit and on to Poland. We basked in the warmer weather, then explored the wonderful dunes that make up the reserve, getting a close up of two snakes along the way! Hisssssssssssssssss

The following day was a sprint event starting in the Sea Museum in Smiltyne (just before I started I saw a sea lion and some emperor penguins!) The sprint was challenging but heaps of fun, it mostly involved weaving through detailed tracks in the forest. Unfortunatly I made too many mistakes to do well at all and poor Chris go another frustrating flat tyre. Both feeling annoyed, Chris insisted on a repeat of my course. We rode it together and both felt much happier after analysing some mistakes and seeing how easy it was to do it so much better. In the afternoon we explored some other dunes, then headed back to our happy wee camp site in Nida.

On the dunes and the pretty surrounds of Nida

The final event was the long distance starting in Juodkrante about halfway along the spit. This was an awesome event on some really fun and difficult terrain. Both Chris and I loved it and felt much more pleased with how we went as well. I still made plenty of dumb mistakes, but I felt much more in control in general. Chris came 13th overall and was only a few minutes down on the leaders and I was pretty pleased with my 25th place. After wards we hung around on the pretty beach feeling quite content enjoying the afternoon sun.

On Saturday they held the relay which we couldn’t race in as we needed a 3 person team. So we mucked around then rode the men’s course in the afternoon. In the evening they had a banquet in a bar on the wharf and we had a fun time with the somewhat raucous mountain bike orienteers.

We left the Neringa spit early the following morning having thoroughly enjoyed the events and the amazing landscape to drive back to Riga and return the rental car, then transport our gear to catch the overnight ferry to Stockholm. Mission achieved we have made it to Sweden and are now hanging out in the flat of the very hospitable Alastair Landals and his partner Juliette. We have some orienteering maps of forests right near the flat so we are going for an exploration tomorrow. Chris is very excited.

Journey Through the Baltic

After the Rogaine we spent another fun night at the local farm stay with the other Kiwis, then headed away in the morning with Julian, Jana and Sylvia in a large silver hire van. Most of us were pretty hobbly (with the annoying exception of Chris and Julian) so we drove back to the nice wee town of Otepa and spent the day hanging out in a pizzeria and visiting the 'Canyon' the largest in Estonia apparently...

This photo is actually from before the Rogaine in Tallinn when Viv had the brilliant idea of hiring the terrifying 'Octibike', it proofed a highly entertaining and attention seeking way of zooming round Tallinn.

We camped in a deserted campground and it was truly freezing, so the following morning all feeling chilled to the bone we decided to find a nice cabin for that night. We drove to the town of Tartu and wandered through its pretty cobbled streets. We took a visit to the KGB museum and saw grim pictures of Ghettos in Siberia – after which we definitely needed some warming coffees. In the afternoon we drove out to the coast and had some difficulty finding any suitable accommodation – so (much to Chris’s glee) we ended up free camping in some bushes. However the bushes were beside an interesting piece of coast line littered with barracks and old shells from the war.

In the morning we planned to visit the famous (according to the guide book anyway) “Viru Bog”. There was a boardwalk spanning the bog so we figured the walk ought to be pretty straightforward, especially considering only a few days earlier we had spent some 24 hours getting ‘familiar’ with the Estonian Bogs. Unfortunately (and just as the sign kindly informed us) the excessive amount of rain had caused some flooding, and we were soon teetering along a rather submerged boardwalk getting a bit wet.

This was all fun, until we got to the end of the walk and started off back to the car, or so we thought. After 20 minutes on a gravel road Chris decided on a shortcut back through the forest. Soon we were in a bog. Then we realised we actually had no idea where we were. We could hear a road so we kept going and going….

Finally after 1 hour through the bog we reached a massive high way and we still didn’t know where we were! Some careful deduction had us traipse back a further 30 minutes to the car along the high way all feeling rather bogged out and hungry. The 20 minute bog track return took a bit longer than we had bargained on and Chris’s name was mud, literally (-:

That night we stayed at the City Bike Hostel in Tallinn, the same we had stayed at before the Rogaine. Tallin has a wonderful old town, it really feels like you have been whisked back several hundred years. We satisfied ourselves at the local bakery then headed across the border to Latvia. We picked the Town of Sigulda to visit in Latvia, because it is in the heart of the Gauja National Park. That night we happened upon a great spot to stay in a really nice new cabin on the shores of a nice reedy lake – we even got our own paddle boat to row around the lake in!

On the Baltic Coast

The place was so cosy we decided to spent 2 nights there. Chris and I went for a fun mountain bike adventure on the first day, exploring some sandstone cliff, a real beaver dam and taking a ‘ferry bridge’ to get back across the river.

The following day Julian and Jana went for a ride while Sylvia and I had a great row all around the lake


Afterwards we decided we had to have a go at the ‘Summer Bob’ we had read about in the guidebook.

This involved rocketing down the winter bobsled track in this little car thing. Sounds pretty terrifying, but luckily (much to Julian and Chris’s disappointment) they had a driver in the front who was actually an expert Bobsledder. It was pretty exciting as the rickety car thing hurtled around the bends at 80km per hour! However the guy told us afterwards that the actually Bobsledders average 110km, hmmm so I don’t think I will become a professional Bobsledder.

Later that day we headed to Riga to drop Sylvia at the airport as she had to head back home to Scotland. There we departed with the big silver van, and we spent the rest of the day exploring Riga.

Chris and I had decided we really needed to hire a car in order to make our way down to the European MTBO Champs on the Neringa Spit in Lithuania. We managed to find a very cheap car hire place in an industrial suburb of Riga with the help of Julian and Jana. The car started off dirty (which is always a good sign) so the four of us piled in and headed for the Neringa Spit.

The Hill of Crosses on the way dwon to the spit was an amazing sight... billions of crosses have been placed upon a hill and apparently during communist rule in Latvia the Russians bulldozed the hill of crosses three times, but they were always replaced.

Friday, September 19, 2008

World Rogaine Champs in Estonia

Bogy bog bog swamp marsh swampy bog. That was what the terrain was like during the World Rogaine Champs held in Estonia in Karula National Park. Unfortunately this meant most of the time the fastest way was to take winding long tracks around the bogs, meaning the rogaine also featured alot of track running - not super fun.

However we all felt we got to experience some authentic Estonian terrain (based on our guide book the Estonians seem quite proud of their bogs!). Chris and Dennis just missed out on holding their title and placed a very close second to some speedy Russians. Julian and I executed a reasonable course with a bit of time lost in the forest during the night, but were well and truely thrashed by many zippy Estonian mixed teams.

Jana and Sylvia achieved their impressive goal of completing the full 24 hours and did really well for the first 18 before a long and very character building 6 hour walk back to the finish. 'The Oldies' or should I say "The Amazing Oldies" (Pete Squires, Anne Kennedy, Bill Kennedy) won the mixed super veteran category for the umpteenth time. Tim Farrant and Georgia Whitla "The Youngies" did extremly well and won the mixed junior grade.

There were heaps more Kiwis competing than I have just mentioned...it wasn't that uncommon in the night even despite the 700 strong field to stumble accross the odd "g'day" in the night in the middle of a particular swamp, bog or marsh.

Jana and Sylvia make it accross the finish line

Chris and Dennis just after finishing

That's just a small sample of photos - there should be some more coming from the Rogaine as well as some good Estonian bog photos from our travels around afterwards so stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Swedish Wedding!

The Tyreso Youth Hostel was a beautiful old building situated on an orienteering map in the pretty forest near Tyreso town and the castle. We spent Friday evening having a good catch up with everyone over a pile of pizzas. In the morning a whole pile of people went out running in the forest, before the wedding which took place in the afternoon in one of the most popular churches to get married in Sweden.

After that there was a wonderful reception in a cute wee cafe about 20 minutes walk through the forest from the church. There were heaps of funny speeches and some delicious food followed by some great dancing. Here is a selection of photos for your perusal.

Up the aisle

In the beautiful church

Look at Jamie's suit!

Chris looking good (-:

Me and Penny

Georgia, Chris and Penny

Sea Kayaking in Sweden

PART ONE: Quest for the 'The Islands'

Our explorations saw us head North via the train from Copenhagen to Stockholm. It was a day of solid lugging with all our gear on numerous train changes. We finally arrived in the dark in Stockholm and after assembling our bikes on the platform we had a pleasant conversation with the police who thought we had had them on the trains! We then had to squeeze out through the metro gates with the man at the ticket office shouting "This is not GOOD!" opps, I didn't know Swedes were so anti bikes on trains!

We wandered through Stockholm the following day and visited a real orienteering shop filled with all sorts of goodies. We biked to and from the town center from our campground via the swooping weaving smooth cycle parks which I distinctly remember from when I visited Sweden as a 12 year old.

The next day we planned to head out for a 3 day sea kayaking trip on the archipelago. We hired kayaks from the university kayak club and set off through the forest lined channels. We spotted a grassy spot and set up camp.

Emily jumps with joy!

The quintessential light house

Our great plan was to visit the windswept rocky outcrop islands we had seen when googling sea kayaking in the archipelago. We had a tiny map of the area and the determined goal to make it out to the distant cluster of dots on the map we were sure were 'the islands'. All day we paddled past tree covered islands dotted with cute little houses. It wasn't until 6 oclock after a very long paddle we realised perhaps this so called 'islands' were actually a solid 2 days further paddling away!

So we gave up our quest and camped on this cool wee island we claimed for ourselves (there was a yacht moored to the other and another sea kayak on another nearby). In the morning we set out for a long paddle home into a strong head wind.

By the time we got back we had covered about 50km and my arms were dead! We caught the train to Tyreso to the youth hostel where we met up with the whole gang of Kiwis for Aaron and Sara's wedding; Penny and Jamie just arrived from travelling Indonesia, Gordon and Viv from Poland, Lara and Matt from NZ, Georgia from Sweden...

The wedding on Saturday is covered in the next blog. But seeing this blog is about sea kayaking I'll go on to tell you about our second sea kayaking trip after the wedding.

PART TWO: Mass Attack on 'The Islands'

Having enjoyed our first trip so much and still secretly hoping to find our idealised archelpelagic islands we were convinced to head out again after the wedding with a whole crowd of others from a place called Dalero near Tyreso. Matt, Lara, Penny, Jamie, Aaron, Gordon, Lance, Russel, Jacqui, Viv and Chris and I hired kayaks from a friend of Sara's and set out on Sunday afternoon after a delicious brunch at Sara's parents house. We paddled for about 1.5 hours in some windy seas before setting up camp and a nice hot fire.

The wind and waves were still up in the morning so we decided on a circumnavigation of a nearby big island. After a couple of hours we beached on a mosquito infested island, but luckily located beside a warm restuarant where we found some hot coffee. After that we continued round the island until Matt and I (the ones with the maps) decided on a great route choice through a narrow channel which turned out to be solid reeds. After a considerable amount of cursing, towing and bush bashing we made it out to the otherside, opps.

The 'oldies' (they won't like that) (Viv, Russel, Gordon and Lance) who had cunning avoided our reed bashing route choice were seen heading out to sea having missed seeing a better route between some more islands, after waiting for them to catch up we were all even again. We paddled across a windy bay all feeling pretty tired and beached on a cute island with a huge rock in the centre. A wonderful fire was quickly lit and we sat around enjoying yummu cups of tea and dinner, what a hard life!

In the morning we were up early and back across the bay to say goodbye to Matt, Lara, Jamie, Penny and Aaron. The rest of us continued back into Stockholm where we were to catch the ferry to Tallin in Estonia that evening. Chris and I headed to our campground to collect our bikes while Viv and Lance waited with our gear in Gullmarsplan. We were sitting on the metro train and noticed numbers seemed to be diminishing. Thinking nothing of it...until the train came to a stop in the pitch dark and the lights went out! There was noone else on, and we suddenly realised the train had parked up for the day! All the doors were locked and when I saw the driver walk past I started banging on the windows.

He let us out of the wagon and lead us into the front 'cockpit' of the train where he took us for a ride back to the previous station! We jumped out and caught the next train to our campsite....the whole thing was very odd but provided the other Kiwis great amusement when we finally made it back with our bikes.

After that we had lunch in Stockholm, then boarded the ship to Tallin called the 'Romantiker' which turned out to be a giant cruise ship with restaurants, bars and a dance floor! We had a cool cabin with bunks and a shower. It was great standing on the deck sailing past where we had paddled the week previous.

That huge looming ship is the same as the one we were on!

In the morning we arrived in Tallin at a youth hostel invaded by Kiwi rogainers. Tommorrow we are making our way South to Tartu for the Rogaine.

PS. We never really found 'The Islands' so I think we might just have to go back to the Archepelago in our kayaks and search further (-: