A month ago, they opened the longest hike trail in Estonia: 370 km from Oandu (NE of Estonia) to Ikla (SW, at the border of Latvia). When I first learned about it, I knew that I wanted to do that. The other day when I met my childhood friend Tim, who has been travelling the world for years, but is visiting Estonia for two months, we devised a plan to do that trail. Since my schedule is pretty tense right now, all I could do was take 2 days off (+weekend) and therefore we decided to do the trail on bike.
Start Thursday, 2nd of August.
Day 1: Oandu to Nikerjärve (74 km).
6:30AM wake-up call, quick shower, breakfast, packing (I was working until 1:30AM the previous night thus did not have time to pack) and we arrived Oandu some 4 hours later. From the information point we got maps and route description and off we went. The “official” starting time 10:48 AM.
The beginning was a narrow forest trail, meant for walking but also suitable for riding the bike. After the first kilometer we saw a sign that told us: Oandu 1 km, Ikla 369 km. Still a lot to go! The first stretch of trail ended after 10 km, near Võsu and this is where we missed a turn. That happened to be one of the 7-8 misturns we made that day. (As we got more familiar with the map and route description and perhaps grew more tired of making those extra loops, we made only one mistake in the other three days combined). Luckily we noticed the mistake pretty soon and found the right route again.
The forward progress was rather slow. Riding the bikes equipped with 15+ kg bags on the forest trails is rather slow, especially if you have to stop every once in a while to make sure that you are indeed on a right track. By 3PM we had covered 35 km and just turned to a gravel road where the pace was much higher. Suddenly, my back wheel jammed. Completely. We stopped and immediately noticed that things were bad and we could not fix the bike.
Thus. We have only covered 35 km of 370, half of the day is already over, my bike is irrepairable and we are almost 200 km from home (Tartu). What should be do, call it quits? No. We started calling our friends from Tallinn to find somebody who could bring me a new back wheel. Finally Tim managed to find a friend, who was willing to help us. He would finish his workday at 5PM, then go to bike shop, buy a new back wheel and then drive 65 km to bring it to us. Ideally we would get the back wheel a bit before 7PM, thus would be left with some 3 hours worth of moving forward. Fair enough.
We still had 3 hours until the wheel arrived, so we ate and played Monopoly on my iPad (this was the only instance during the trip when I used it). Tim won. Just before 7PM, Tõnis arrived, happy to help us and escape the cleaning he had promised to do at home. I installed the new wheel and off we rushed, this time with quite a hurried pace to make at least some progress before the darkness.
We arrived Aegviidu when it was already almost dark. Then it took us half an hour to find our way to the Nikerjärve camping site just 1.5 km from Aegviidu and once there, we erected the tent, ate some more muesli bars and called it a night.
Day 2: Nikerjärve (74 km) to Mukri (196 km)
We woke up before 8, had warm breakfast and started cycling 9AM sharp. The goal was to have at least half of the trail (185 km) covered by night. The sun was in the sky and it promised to be a great day. It was. In a couple of hours we had made it to Kakerdaja bog trail, made of wooden boards. The wooden boards were in a perfect condition so that we could actually cycle there. Soon we reached a bog lake and had a refreching morning swim there. Amazing!
We continued with pretty good pace and by the lunchtime had crossed Tallinn-Tartu road. The weather was still amazing and apart from some short breaks every couple of hours, we were on our bikes most of the time. At times the trail went though forests with lot of mosquitoes and even more gadflys. Tell you what: the biking lycra does not provide any protection for insect bites! Tim put on more clothes to protect himself, I stayed as I was. On a scale of bitable-sweating I was definitely on the left side, Tim on the right.
A few hours after the lunch we met another couple of thru-hikers at Loosalu raba. There was another bog trail of wooden boards to be done there, but this trail was in such a bad condition that they had decided to pass it and make a gravel road loop around it. We went to check it out anyway and found that it was in a very bad shape indeed. Nevermind we started pushing our bikes through it and actually made it to the end in 2 hours. Continuing the trail to Lelle village, we met the guys again, thus they had not won much time making the loop.
By 7 PM we had made it to Tillniidu (already more than half of the total), but since we missed the turn to the campsite and cycled another kilometer of the trail before noticing it, I convinced Tim to go to the next place, Mukri. Before making to Mukri, it started to rain, but after a few minutes it stopped. It was still pretty clear that it would start raining pretty soon again. At Mukri we had another swim in the bog lake and then reached the camping site, where another couple of hikers were playing cards. They had started from Aegviidu (though on a previous day) and wanted to make it to Ikla by Sunday evening just like us. They’d have to pick up the pace to do that, I thought.
We erected our tent, had a warm dinner and went to sleep. It started to rain.