On DFDS from Klaipeda to Kiel

Today has been quite a day. From the moment I woke up I heard rain hammering down on the roof of my hotel and my weather app presented me those iconic grey, grey clouds with three drops of symbolic rain at every single hour through the day. There was going to be no escape. So I stayed in bed late and emerged down in the bar at about 9.20 where the hotel person (I can’t give her a precise job title) told me that my breakfast was getting cold. I’d mentioned that I would be down at 9 am yesterday but did not realise it was being taken note of. I ate and drank more or less everything but did not have much appetite as I was feeling apprehensive about a day of riding in heavy rain – the journey from Riga to Klaipeda is about four hours or so. I put on many layers including my merino wool base layers bought specially with this trip in mind. I packed up the bike which mercifully I had wheeled just enough to be under shelter last night and headed off, dropping the key on the bar on my way out.
The first thing I realised is that I was hot. Wet does not always mean cold. The traffic was heavy and the road was terrible including my dreaded wet cobbles but I left town on a major road and the traffic eventually thinned out. What traffic there was were large trucks bound for who knows where.
Before I had quite left Riga, I remember being stopped by red lights at a busy junction. In the rain I noted one man, in a turquoise jacket and baseball cap but with a doughy face, pale in complexion walking across the road. He had had an air of happy, though slightly lumbering optimism. No umbrella-less and rain-coatless walk in the rain was going to stop his enjoyment. His head was high and his shoulders were unhunched against the weather. Then crossing the other way was a slightly older and shorter man in wool cap and trousers tucked into wellington boots. He had an umbrella but it was broken. He too, had a kind of indefatigability. The lights changed and I rode on.
It won’t make exciting reading to hear that I rode for about 4 and a half hours in heavy – very occasionally thinning – rain. Crossing the non-existing border from Latvia into Lithuania was unremarkable apart from those signs of now disused border and customs buildings. Most of the journey was on A roads with a 60 mile per hour limit and the last leg, a turn to the right, meaning changing from driving south to driving west carrying with it a huge change of wind direction and force. The last 100 miles then was some of the most scary riding I have done with some sudden gusts of wind blowing me leftwards into the next lane. Sometimes overtaking (better than following the trucks spraying out huge amounts of water) meant that it was impossible to see where I was going. Given that, I passed a line of 8 motorcyclists struggling with the wind and riding in convoy at 50 mph. Once in Klaipeda the traffic was heavy and the road surface dreadful in a wide range of different ways. But with a combination of GPS and the miraculous I found the terminal and parked up. I made straight for the terminal building still wearing helmet, gloves, waterproof and high vis and gingerly removed most of it piece by piece and sat down in a mixture of shock and exhaustion and a puddle of water. But also huge relief and sense of accomplishment.
186 miles in 4 hours and 12 minutes today.
After half an hour of sitting in a stupor, I saw two others on bikes – a nice Moto Guzzi and a red Ducati Monster (really not ideal touring bikes especially in wet and stormy weather – having no wind protection to speak of) follow my steps and come in from the gale and rain and gradually become human (actually they made less of a fuss than I probably did – but then watching people you only ever, more or less, see the outside). They turned out to be a sweet German couple, entering middle age, on their way home. We got out in the rain to queue to board the boat to Kiel. The rain stopped for much of the time. And to cut a not very long story short we (three people on bikes) dived down the steep ramp to deck 2 (we will have to ride up that steep ramp again – always slightly scary) where we fished around for straps to tie down bikes as well as possible in what I suspect will not be the smoothest crossing. Being well prepared I brought my own ratchet strapping with me (for the first time) and needed it as the boat ran out of their own. I even, laboriously, worked out how to thread it.
There seem to be no lifts on this boat so we struggled up from car deck 2 to the cabin deck 6 with helmet, two bags and by carrier bag full of Latvian food and vodka up steep gangway metal steps. Getting out of my huge amount of clobber in the not too large cabin involved a huge amount of effort, sweat and contortion.
My cabin must be under the bridge because it is facing forward and I watched the guys draw in the ropes (using heavy machinery) before the ship left the side, half an hour late. We are moving slowly through the spit along side Klaipeda, north I think, before turning westward into the Baltic itself. (I just watched our progress on Google map on my phone). I am not expecting a smooth sailing and will be relieved when it is morning. I wonder if everything will slide off my little table here and crash onto the floor. I wonder how my position on the boat will affect the journey and if there is somewhere, dead in the centre of the boat where you get a smooth ride like a magic carpet.
Announcements are first in Lithuanian (I think) then German, then English and finally Russian. It is very exciting, very hard-core.
We have just turned out into the Baltic and already, even though we are still close to land, we are rolling rather scarily. I am never going to sail this route again.
Ha ha. It was very rough for the first hour or two. I felt my body being pressed into the mattress first this way and then another. I was amazed at the permutations of irregular movement and sound that the sea offered, much more complicated and unpredictable than a regular swaying from side to side that might have some of the reassurance of a mother rocking her baby to sleep. But sleep I did. I can’t remember at what point I gave in to the day’s exhaustion, helped by only a tiny piece of the Latvian vodka. I woke at some point and realised that it was completely calm. My phone by my pillow showed that we had changed time zone.
Price of the ticket seems to include breakfast so I queued with the stocky men whose idea of a continental breakfast has little in common with the croissants and jam version. In fact the ship has an unusual clientele (as well as an unusual breakfast menu). The largest group is the stocky men, presumably from Lithuania. My stereotypical belief is that they are going to Germany for work. (I invent a whole back-story about their families at home.) But who knows? Then there are a very few couples, mostly speaking German quietly. I always wonder who travels by sea nowadays. It is so different to air travel, so less processed even though the ships are all temples to consumerism – some more than others. There is a bar open – and even though it is just gone 8am, there are men with already half finished pints of dark ale. I noticed one man sitting alone, with large features, perhaps handsome or even heroic at some point in his life. He was slouched, with rather a large stomach though he was not overweight. He was staring absently or perhaps unhappily at the table on which his nearly empty glass, as well as a number of other glasses sat. Perhaps his expression was not unhappy but just the kind of repose that all of us might suddenly glimpse in a mirror unexpectedly. If any of these men will be driving off this boat – in cars or in charge of articulated lorries – I certainly want to avoid them.
I know two more words of Russian now in addition to normalya, spaseeba and Zapata (don’t worry I won’t make any jokes). That’s Dobray ootra – good morning. I actually tried this when passing my two German motorcycling friends. I wasn’t sure of their reaction.
The sea is calm and we just passed what was possibly an island wind farm but with only one turbine spinning. I was almost disappointed to see on Google map that we are more than half way on this journey. I realise part of me never wants it to stop (now that the sea is calm). I want to stay suspended in this liminal place without responsibility, more or less anonymous and solitary. An hour or so later, the sea is still remarkably calm.