After having cycled from Poznan to Gdansk, Poland, I spent two nights camping in Sopot, Poland and then packed up my bicycle and prepared myself for the short 1-week cycle touring journey to Vilnius, Lithuania. I had planned on being on my own for this entire leg of the journey, but after a slow start leaving the city of Gdansk, I ran into another bicycle traveler named Dominic (he asked me to call him Dodo for short) who was hauling a ton of gear both on his bicycle and on an xtrawheel trailer he was hauling behind his bike. After realizing that we were both headed in the same direction, I asked Dodo if it would be okay for me to cycle with him for a bit. We certainly hadn’t committed to any kind of a bicycle touring relationship at this point.
To make a long story short, Dodo is a very fast cyclist. I regularly pass other unloaded cyclists when I am touring, but Dodo was cycling a good 10-20% faster than I normally like to go. I was able to keep up with him during our first couple hours together, but it was something of a struggle. Which is why I was kind of relieved when we were forced to stop for a moment and take a ferry (that cost 5 PLN) to the other side of a small river. During the ferry crossing I told Dodo that he was going a bit too fast for me, and I could tell that he really took this information to heart. This would be the first of many compromises that Dodo and I would make over the next several days.
After only a short time cycling together, Dodo said that there was a campground nearby and he was ready to call it a day. But it was only 4 PM and I felt like I was just getting started with my serious cycling for the day. I considered leaving Dodo at this point and continuing on my own, but also thought it would be nice to have some company for a change, so I compromised and not only quit my cycling early that day, but also shelled out the money to stay in an established campground.
After checking in at the campground, which was located just a few meters from the Baltic Sea in Jantar, Poland, we set up our tents, took showers, and settle in for the night.
While Dodo looked his dinner on a camp stove, I walked down to the beach and picked up a vegetarian pizza from a small storefront. When I asked the woman at the pizzeria if she spoke English, she said, “Yes.” But when I said anything after that, she just stared at me with big, confused bug eyes and didn’t say a word.
After eating my pizza outside my tent, Dodo and I walked out to the Sea. The wind was whipping in off the cold water and it was absolutely freezing out there, so we retreated to the safety of our campsite.
Once there, I asked Dodo if he would be interested in playing a game of IOTA with me. He had never heard of the game, but he was up to give it a try… and he did extremely well at it.
When it got dark, Dodo and I both went to bed. He went to bed a little earlier than I did (because I tend to stay up late reading and listening to Podcasts in my tent), so it was only natural that he would wake up a bit earlier as well. I rolled out of my tent around 7 AM… and this was honestly the earliest I had woken up on this year’s bike tour. I am not a morning person and I usually stay in my tent until 8, 9 or even 10 or 11 AM. But because I was now traveling with Dodo, I woke up early. I was tired and could have easily used a couple more hours or sleep, but I woke up, packed up my things and then I hit the road with my new travel companion.
It was during our first full day of cycling together that I realized I would probably be traveling with Dodo for at least the next week, if not longer. Waking up early wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but I was happy to do it… if it meant riding with a good partner for a while. And I could tell that Dodo had slowed his pace a little bit as well. He was making an effort to ride at a pace that was more comfortable to me.
Do you see the teddy bear on the front of Dodo’s bicycle? He told me the bear was from his girlfriend, but that it did not have a name. I believe him when he says that the bear is from his girlfriend, but I’m not sure I believe the fact that he hadn’t named his teddy. haha!
During our second night together, Dodo made another compromise. Instead of camping in an established campground, we simply rolled off into the woods and did a bit of wild camping. This was the first time ever that Dodo had wild camped on this particular bicycle tour of his.
It ended up being a pretty good camp too. We made camp early, ate dinner and then went to bed, only to wake up early the next morning, pack up our bicycles and hit the road.
It was about this time during our ride together that Dodo began talking about his xtrawheel trailer and all the unncessary stuff he was hauling around on his bicycle. When I first met Dodo, he had been insistant that the trailer was a necessity and that it didn’t slow him down in any way. But after cycling with me for a couple days and seeing just how light and free I was on my bicycle, he began discussing the idea of getting rid of his trailer and two full panniers of his gear.
Our second full day of riding together was a good one. We were treated to some wonderful weather, spectacular scenery, and several charming Polish towns and villages. That night we made camp outside the home of a German-speaking woman near the city of Pilec, Poland. The home/campsite was situated right on the edge of a small lake, so we spent much of the evening looking out across the water and enjoying the scenic views.
While I personally have a preference for wild camping (and I enjoy the benefits of not having to pay for a place to camp each night), traveling with Dodo forced me to realize just how nice it can be to sleep in a campground each night. Even though you do have to pay a small amount of money for the luxury, you get a warm shower, access to electricity, and (if you’re lucky) wifi Internet.
During our fourth day together, we again had wonderful weather. Blue skies, white clouds, and charming Polish villages for more than 100 kilometers.
It was a Polish holiday, so many of the local shops and stores were closed, so when we entered the city of Gizycko and were welcomed with a boat parade (where hundreds of boats were slowly passing through the city), we were kind of surprised. We hadn’t been expecting such a public celebration on this supposedly religious holiday. As far as we could tell, this holiday was nothing more than an excuse to drink alcohol and ride around on sailboats. We sat by the river and watched the boats pass by for a short while. Then we lifted our legs back over the top tubes of our loaded bicycles and hit the road once more.
Riding with Dodo was a blast. I enjoyed his company and felt comfortable with him as a travel companion. But after spending several days with the guy, I began to see just how different our approaches to bicycle traveler truely were. For example, Dodo liked to wake up early, cycled fast and hard for 6-7 hours each day, and then make camp early and go to bed around 9 or 10 PM. I, on the otherhands, would have prefered to sleep in late, take a more relaxed pace on the bicycle (while occasionally stopping to take photos or just explore an interesting area). Because the sun doesn’t set until after 9 PM now, I don’t usually stop cycling until aroun 7-9 PM… and I don’t usually go to sleep until sometime after midnight.
Because our two approaches to bicycle touring were so different, we were each having to make multiple compromises in order to stay together. But neither one of us complained about these compromises.
I. however, was aware of the fact that I was constantly making Dodo wait for me. He had to wait for me to wake up in the morning. Then he had to wait while I went to the bathroom packed up my bicycle, etc. Then he had to wait for me because I’m a slower cyclist than he is. He had to wait for me when I went into a supermarket and he stayed outside to watch the bikes. And he had to wait for me even more when I stopped to take a photo. Because I knew he was having to do so much waiting, I didn’t take as many photos during our time together as I would have liked. Another compromise, but I was happy to do it.
Just outside the city of Olecko, Poland, I was chased down my a group of young, teenage boys on mountain bikes. The boys were part of Olecko Bike Club… and they were really super nice. We stopped to talk with them for a moment and take a few photos. Then they escorted us into the city center, which is where we finally left them.
We ended up camping in the woods that night, just outside the city center of Olecko, Poland. Finding a place that was free of mosquitoes was difficult, but we ended up in a relatively good location. I took a shower using one of the water bottles from my bicycle and then I crawled inside my tent, ate dinner and spent the rest of the night reading ebooks on my smartphone.
When we woke up the next morning, Dodo was on a mission. He had decided that after pedaling his bicycle for more than 1,000 kilometers, he was ready to get rid of the big, heavy trailer he was hauling behind his bicycle. Our goal for the day was to find a post office and mail his bike trailer (and two additional panniers) home.
On a side note, these large birds are everywhere in Poland. They can be found nesting on the top of almost every single electrical pole in Poland. They are big, beautiful, and interesting.
It was raining when we reached the city of Suwalki (in northeastern Poland). But we were able to easily find the post office. Unfortunately, however, we weren’t able to easily communicate with the people in the post office. They weren’t able to understand that Dodo wanted to mail his big bicycle trailer back to Germany. For some reason, this was too complicated for them. So we went just down the street to a nearby bike shop and asked them for assistance. The guys working in the bike shop were able to supply Dodo with a cardboard bike box in which to mail home his trailers and various other items… and with the trailer now packed inside an acceptable case, we were able to work with the people at the post office to successfully ship Dodo’s trailer back to Germany.
The good news was: Dodo no longer had his trailer and 12 kilograms worth of unnecessary gear. The bad news was: Now that his bicycle was so much lighter, he was now cycling at an even faster pace… and I had been struggling to keep up with him before. Eek!
It was raining on and off all day long. We were able to avoid two heavy downpours by first hiding inside the bike shop in Suwalki… and then again by resting our bodies under a roadside bus stop in the middle of Polish farmland.
Even with the rain, we were able to cross the Poland/Lithuania border and cycle out of the country a whole day sooner than we had first planned. We stopped for a moment to take some photos at the border… and then we continued cycling north.
In the first town that we came to (Lazdijai), we withdrew Lithuanian money from a local ATM machine and I was able to secure a new SIM card for my phone (costing me 19 Lithuanian Litas (about $8 USD)). I was thrilled at just how easy it had been to obtain a new SIM card for my phone. But this thrilled feeling wouldn’t last for long.
Crossing into a new country, I instantly began looking for differences between Poland and Lithuania. I noticed that the in Lithuania there were many old wood homes – something we had not seen in Poland. But otherwise, the landscape looked very much the same.
We thought we might have to wild camp during our first night in the country, due to a lack of established campgrounds in the area, but then we spotted a roadside sign saying that there were several campsites situated along the shore of Dusia Lake.
As it turned out, there was really only one established campsite on the lake… and it was a beautiful one. We paid 20 Litas for our campsite (about 8 USD), pitched our tents in the trees just off the eastern shore of the lake, and took nice, warm showers inside that big building you see behind me in the photo below.
Dodo hadn’t planned on cycling to Vilnius, Lithuania, but I conviced him to follow me there. So when we woke the next day, we aimed our bikes toward Vilnius, wanting to cover as much ground as possible, but also knowing that we would not make it there in a single day. It was more than 140 kilometers away!
It was cold and rainy. We wore our winter jackets and traveled down several long, dirt forest roads. The traveling was slow at times, but I really enjoyed it. I would choose to travel on bumpy dirt roads over crowded city streets on almost any day of the week.
Just outside the city of Rudiskes, and situated far back in the nearby forest, we made camp at the home of the ex-coach of the Lithuanian cycling team. This was a total accident by the way. We didn’t know that the man who ran this campsite in the woods was the ex-coach of the Lithuanian cycling team when we first got there. It was something we learned only after we arrived and saw how many bicycles and bicycle paraphernalia he had scattered around the property.
After more hot showers and a night of camping in the rain, we packed up our bicycles once more and began cycling toward the center of Vilnius, Lithuania – the country’s capital city.
It was only a short 40 kilometers from our campground to the city, so we took our time and even stopped for a short lunch break at a roadside truck stop about 26 kilometers from Vilnius.
It was here that I told Dodo I would like to stay in Vilnius for a couple days – to see the city and to do some work on my computer. Dodo, as I suspected, wanted to continue cycling north. He didn’t want to stop.
So when we reached the center of Vilnius and neared the campground just on the outskits of the city center, I took the time to take a few last photos of Dodo, his bicycle and his teddy bear.
I had a great time traveling with Dodo. I had to make some compromises in order to stay with him for the week… and he had to compromise as well. Plus, he had to put up with my snoring each night. I noticed how he would place his tent further and further away from me each night we were on the road. haha!
When I woke up the following morning, Dodo and his bicycle was gone. I was on my own again… and I had plans of using the day to explore the city. So I woke up, took a shower, changed into my street clothes, and then walked the 5-6 kilometers from the campsite to the city center. Below are my photos from the day.
Overall, I was pretty unimpressed with Vilnius. I had heard such wonderful things about the city… and the city does have its nice attributes (for example, I love the fact that it is a city surrounded by greenery). But the city’s old down isn’t much to see. Sorry Vilnius 🙁
After seeing the city, I walked back to my campsite and paid 5 Litas (about $2 USD) for access to the campground’s wireless Internet. The best 2 bucks I’ve ever spent! I worked for several hours updating the BicycleTouringPro.com website and tacking a number of other web-based tasks I had been wanting to work on for the last week.
Then, in the evening, I heard music playing in the distance, so I walked down the hill just a short ways to the nearby river where I found hundreds of people celebrating at what I assume was some kind of mid-summer festival. There was food, music, people dressed in green clothing, and a giant bonfire.
I went to bed really late that night and didn’t roll out of my sleeping bag until well after 9 AM – something I had not done even once since traveling with Dodo.
I then spent the following day in the Vilnius campground, working on my computer, answering emails, and preparing for the next leg of my journey – the bike ride north from Vilnius, Lithuania to the nearby city of Riga, Latvia.