Countries: Estonia & Russia
Distance: 417km / 259mi
Elevation: 1,216m / 3,990ft
This week definitely felt like the end of the first chapter. We crossed into Russia. We hit 5,000km on our CatEye Cycle Computer. I filled my first diary. And as a final full stop, we had our first dog chase as we left Estonia.
It’s common knowledge that dogs hate cyclists and cyclists hate dogs. Nearly all of them we cycle past chase us, well as much chasing they can do from behind a fence or chained to the floor. This time, however, there was no fence of chain for protection…
We hadn't notice the dog – a Rottweiler, I might add – until its owner started shouting after it. Then we saw the beast belting towards us. We have never cycled up a gravel hill so quickly. We were literally out of breath. Thankfully the bear–I mean dog gave up and our legs lived to see another day.
The dog wasn't the only one to give up this week. Dan and I each had a day when our heads just weren’t in the game and we cut the rides short. Dan was up first. We’d had a really late start to the ride; he hadn’t slept well; he was a little hungover; he got a puncture; it was blisteringly hot and humid. At 36km he was done. The very next day, it was my turn. Again it was a late start; I’d barely slept; we’d argued (only our second big one of the trip); there was a crazy headwind. At 31km I was done.
Thankfully these days are extremely rare – especially back-to-back like that – and we managed to find early camp spots easy enough. It did make the following two days much longer, as of course, we change the route again…
Originally, we were taking the most direct route to St. Petersburg along the E20, but on closer inspection, it's not really a road we want to ride on. We’d much rather take a longer route to avoid highways. After a little research, we found that we could follow the coast all the way to the city. Done. It did mean we had to enter Russia a day earlier, as it was a three day ride to St. Petersburg, rather than two, and we had pre-booked accommodation and bike services.
The border crossing was easy. We had done the hard work in getting the visa well before we left the UK. It was our ever-changing route that became the problem. I’d took charge of plotting the coastal route and was so determined to keep us off the E20, I'd opted for the immediate left after the border. This led us through tiny villages, along a dirt track, to a closed road. My bad.
We traipsed back to the start point and begrudgingly joined the E20 to try and pick up the coastal road we wanted, from where it turned off the highway. That's when we came to our first military check point. After checking our passports, the soldiers said we couldn't take this road and that the whole area was closed. The whole coast. We tried to explain that we wanted to swim in the sea. They said swimming wasn't allowed and that we'd have to take the E20 directly to St. Petersburg. So after all that, that's what we did.
The E20 wasn’t too bad, to be honest. There was a generous hard shoulder, Sunday traffic, and friendly locals at the petrol stations we refuelled at. And we found an alright wild camp spot in a farmer's field just off it. We thought it was secluded, turns out it wasn't. Not one, but three lots of people went past while we were chilling inside the tent – someone on a quad bike, a walker and a car of people. That's the first time we've been 'caught' wild camping, yet no one batted an eyelid.
Since we were now a day ahead of ourselves, we booked into a guest house 25km from the centre of St. Petersburg. We'll head into the city tomorrow, where we'll get the bikes serviced and shipped to the other side of Russia. This will leave us bike-less for two weeks, so we can explore Russia along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Russia is such a vast country, we'd never have time to cycle the whole way. Let's see if this plan comes together.