Day 97 - Duly (PL) to Leipalingis (LT): Just try to stop me - No More Taxi Drivers - CycleBlaze

April 22, 2015

Day 97 - Duly (PL) to Leipalingis (LT): Just try to stop me

The winds have been worse in the afternoons, so I knew I needed to start earlier in the day. As you may have noticed, I'm a bit slow to get going in the mornings, but I woke up plenty early today, to a view of dawn over a quiet lake. Ah, perfection. Now if only I could find campsites like that.

Today was to be my last day in Poland, the country I've spent the longest in, not because I wanted to, but because there just happened to be a lot of Poland in between the places I wanted to see. This has been a challenging country for me: at a time when things were supposed to be a lot easier, I've had wind, long days, rough "roads", and poor sleep more often than not. There have been plenty of good things, too: the architecture, the history, some of the people I've met, those rare days on good roads with sparse traffic. I'll miss the largely contiguous bike paths guiding me into cities, and no longer will the traffic signals sing to me.

I decided to be super-prepared and stop in Suwalki for groceries and currency exchange. Sejny was much closer to the border and in theory should have some exchange places, but I have learned to assume nothing. When I reached the centre of Suwalki, I saw a supermarket, a kantor sign (currency exchange), and a WC sign, all within 30 metres. Right on, I thought, I'll be out of here in no time.

Food first. Done. Then toilets. I followed the signs until they stopped, but didn't see the washroom. Okay, not essential. Next, currency exchange. It was closed. Fine. While I was looking for another one, I spotted a WC sign coming from a different direction. I followed it, but again the trail ended at the sign pointing vaguely at the middle of the street. Fine then, I'll find some trees after I leave town.

The next currency exchange was open, staffed by a dusty man wearing thick glasses and a jacket that I'm sure would have looked old in the 80s. I handed over my zloty, asked for euros, and received a blank look.

"Euro." I tried again, and once more. Evidently I pronounce the word so incorrectly that a kantor employee can't understand it in the context of his job. I pulled out a pen.

"Говорите по-Русский?" He wanted to know if I spoke Russian. The question surprised me, because I hadn't heard that in a while--in Poland, it's all been "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" I told him no, not seeing how fumbling with a few Russian words would help, since I'm pretty sure the Russian word for euro is euro. It didn't matter anyway, because by that time I had written down the word and shown it to him.

He calculated the amount, then wanted to know if I had 2 zloty, to make an even 5 euro. No, I didn't, I gave him everything. Seemingly stymied, he repeated the calculation, coming up with the same result. Shook his head. Paused. Counted out the banknotes, then did nothing for a while. He still owed me 4.38€, and I was wondering if I was going to get it. Eventually, he reached for a huge jar of coins, and had no trouble whatsoever coming up with the correct change, although it took him forever.

Finally ready for Lithuania, still 40 or 50 km away. That was a long distance, it had better be a smooth afternoon because I had no Polish money left.

It wasn't a smooth afternoon.

There was road construction for the first 10 km out of Suwalki, including three of those delightful one-lane stretches controlled by traffic lights. The first was timed so that I would have made it through had I been at the front of the line, but for the next two I had no chance, and had to dodge construction workers and oncoming traffic while negotiating mud and gravel. After that, they closed the road altogether. The detour had so little traffic that I assumed the whole thing was actually a prank. It took me far enough out of my way that I decided to skip Sejny altogether and go through Giby. I could do that because I had food and euros.

I crossed an eerily quiet national road and continued on small roads toward the border. East of that highway, the land took on a different feel but I couldn't quite figure out why. Maybe the houses were set back further from the road, maybe there were grassy fields that had been cleared but not cultivated; it was a different sense of space. I biked past a stork standing in a field near the road. A school bus dropped off some students. Other than that and a few cars, it was quiet. I came to an intersection with a small sign pointing to the Lithuanian border, and a rough but paved road. My GPS showed another road a bit further on, which was shorter, so I passed on the sure thing and went in search of the other road.

Not only was there no sign, not only was the road not quite where the map indicated, it was also made of sand. Of course. Even worse, I soon came to a sign that I'm pretty sure was prohibiting me from going any further on that road.

I was sensible enough to proceed anyway, mostly on foot because of the sand, and then I was at the border, where I was greeted by a big tourist information board and a smooth, paved road. Fantastic first impression, which turned out to be all it was, because after 500 m the paved road ended and I was suddenly attempting to bike on a dirt road covered with a generous layer of sand.

That only lasted until I turned at an intersection. The next road was washboard gravel (I called it corrugated before, but I think that's the wrong term and probably only confused people), the kind that produces huge dust clouds whenever a car goes by. It reminded me of home, specifically the roads I never, ever bike on. It was impossible. After today, I'll have to stay on paved roads or I'll never reach my destination on time.

I was tired, ready to stop, but there was nothing. I was pushing my bike up all the washboard climbs, short but soft and steep. There were supposed to be campgrounds in the area, but I couldn't find them, open or closed. I passed a few wooded areas, but I thought they could be private property, which was different from other countries. Imagine that, not clearing your land. Eventually, I stopped at a forest that was shown in green on my map, and set up my tent, too tired to continue. I was much too close to town, and after first being treated to the song of a bird with an amazing repertoire, I had to listen to dogs and boars and dogs barking at boars.

Good Polish bike path, but the sign is overkill
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Apparently I'm not allowed to leave Poland
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A warm welcome to Lithuania
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And now for a special Q&A. James asks: Girl, where are you going? I thought you were in a rush to escape Schengen. You are headed east. That's the wrong way isn't it? I thought you would be high tailing it west. Are you lost? Have you gone round the twist?

Escape Schengen? I was in a rush to escape Schengen in order to save my Schengen days for later, which is now. Assuming I counted correctly, I will be fine between now and when I leave Schengen.

Wrong way? Yes and no. Yes, because I booked a flight out of Western Europe. No, because my plans changed. However, my new plan includes a flight to my flight, so it's fine.

Lost? No, not this time. It's true that I frequently get lost, but I typically become unlost within 0.2 to 2 km, not 200 km.

Round the twist? I'm not familiar with that expression, but will assume it is the same as round the bend. That question has been the subject of an ongoing, informal survey consisting entirely of the unsolicited opinions of people I have met along the way. Opinion is divided. So while I cannot give you a conclusive answer at this time, I can say that if I have indeed gone round the twist, it happened at a much earlier date and is therefore unlikely to be related to my unexpectedly (to you) heading east.

Today's ride: 118 km (73 miles)
Total: 4,934 km (3,064 miles)

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