I have anxiety. Did you know? Not just the usual worries, the occasional nervousness. No. It has colored my life. It still shadows me, and not infrequently do I step onto darker ground.
I was riding on a train to Klaipėda. I wanted to be there for a few days—enough to bicycle the Lithuanian length of the Curonian Spit. I had spent hours lingering over articles and photos of this place. But I was arriving soon, and I had no place to stay. Klaipėda isn’t very large; Couchsurfing and BeWelcome hadn’t panned out. I wasn’t totally unprepared: I had looked up how to get from the train station to a nearby hostel. And that was it. Maybe I had some little jitters, but mostly I didn’t care. I sat back and chatted with Danute, the older woman sitting next to me.
At home, small things can send me into a shivering whiteout. But traveling is breaking the rules. No—traveling has no rules to break. There is no normality, no routines to follow, all is transient. I didn’t know this before. My stomach was gripped with hot tongs the first time I took off on my own to couchsurf around. But I have learned.
I got off the train and, after walking an extra couple of blocks thanks to a wrong turn, I found the hostel. They had a bed for me. The woman at the desk somewhat explained the best process for biking the Spit, showing me the bus times. Okay, I said. I just have to do it.
Another girl walked into the hostel behind me.
This is traveling. There are no rules. I launched into conversation with her. She is Kariane, she is from Quebec, she too had just completed an eco-volunteering project. We went out to explore the town together and got dinner together, and by the happy end, she had agreed to wake up early early next morning and bike the Curonian Spit with me. Alone is fine, but with a new pal is usually better. We got ice creams at the grocery store on the way back to the hostel.
The next morning we wheeled our rented bikes across the street to the bus station. Our plan hinged on one factor: getting our bikes on this bus, which did not have a bike rack. We wanted the day to cycle the Spit, we wanted this early bus, if it would have us. But, strengthened by a pal at my side, I didn’t fret too much. Well, I fretted a little in the throes of an argument with the Russian-speaking bus driver. But, please, you have a luggage compartment! We need to get down there this morning. What else are we supposed to do? Come on, please, there’s plenty of room for the bikes. The bus driver relented. All nervousness was replaced by a sense of pride at my ability to argue in Russian. We boarded. The bus began the drive to Kaliningrad. We were disembarking at Nida, just on the Lithuanian side of the border. Happy trails, I told the driver.
In Nida, it was slightly sprinkling. The shops weren’t even open yet. Kariane and I searched all around for coffee, before settling for the bus station’s coffee machine. We ate our breakfasts we had bought from the grocery the day before as we sat on the shore facing inland. Ducks and swans paddled around. Nida was cute, so cute. I already wanted to come back and stay for days.
After eating, we hopped on our bikes and cycled around town trying to locate the trail. A little trial-and-error, and we were off through the woods. After one strong downpour, the rain dissipated. The sun began to blaze in earnest, though it was not hot. We crossed the Spit to the oceanside. And behold—the dark sea, the white seacaps, the dunes and their grasses, the wind blowing like mad. Oh yeah, and the old dudes who stripped off their clothes and went running into the sea, not caring that other people were around. Kariane and I sat on the sand and talked and laughed. A no-longer-naked dude came up to me later and asked in German how to get to Nida. I tried to explain. He told me my German was good, though in truth, I was stumbling on Russian words. I was proud. We cycled on. I kept looking toward the beach on my left. It was one of those sights that you don’t want to turn away from.
Eventually we arrived at a choice: cycle back across the Spit to Juodkrantė for lunch or continue on, without adding the extra kilometers? We wanted to see more, and we wanted lunch. So back across we went, the slanty trees pointing us in the correct direction. We did walk up the hill, however. My butt was starting to ache.
Extra distance is almost always worth it. In a hotel in Juodkrantė we lunched on two Lithuanian dishes: fried garlic bread dipped in cheese sauce, and their cold, very pink beet soup with boiled potatoes on the side. It all hit the spot. Back on the road, back up and over the hill (on foot), back along the ocean. My butt hurt more and more, but it was okay. That was the only bummer. Ha ha.
Now we were passing through something strange. The forest had burned. There were blackened trees, withered against the ground. There were trees tinged with red. It truth, it was beautiful. We came across a sign that said a forest fire had occurred in 2006. Now they were studying the regrowth. Huh, we thought. This looks… recent. Later I found out, it was. Recent, as in, the past spring.
Through the burnt forest and across a beautiful green field. My butt was really aching now with every pedal. But, we were ahead of schedule. We studied maps at a fork in the road and decided to rest at a beach. We picked a non-nude one. The wind smacked sand against our faces as we crested the dunes and descended to the water below. It was getting chilly. But we sat back, gusting sand and all, for a while. It was nice. The clouds, the granules of sand, the air—but not my mind—spiraled around.
And then we were on the final stretch, the remaining kilometers. From Nida to the ferry was about 60 kilometers, including our detour. Arriving in Smiltyne, where the ferry would cross us back over to Klaipėda, we felt quite proud and satisfied. Except for my aching butt. Next time, I’d prefer a more comfortable bike. But no matter! My butt was my one discomfort—just that.
I had gone from not knowing where I would sleep 24 hours previously to having completed one of my most-looked-forward-to stretches of my trip. All with an easily found friend by my side.
Once back in Klaipėda, Kariane and I stopped at a Lithuanian chain and got food and ciders. We were happy. That night in the hostel, tired from the early morning, I relaxed well. In the morning I left for Riga, but with all intentions of returning someday.
The whole time I pedaled, I did not worry one bit.