Being in a jovial mood, the decision to start the hike from Altja, instead of Oandu came very easily. Three days and 75km, that means 25 km per day, an added 4-5 km wouldn’t hurt, right?! After all, all three of us, me, Matti and Oskar, are rather active guys who work out on regular basis.
Not only that, but I had decided to walk that distance with my running shoes – Saucony Kinvara 3’s I’d bought just couple of weeks ago and thus only ran some 100k with them so far, almost new. I very much like my Kinvaras, in fact, they are probably the best running shoes I ever had, yet with their thin and penetrable upper part and close to zero cushioning they are not too suitable for hiking in the forest and trail wearing a 20k backpack. They let sand and other stuff inside and make your legs work quite hard. But I figured that 25km is distance small enough to have the time and energy to go for a jog in the evening and I didn’t want to bring two sets of shoes with me. Besides, I had already done the trail on bike last year and it did not look that intimidating.
Carrying a tent, dishes, primus and gas and food for three days, my backpack was around 20 kilos. Oskar said his was about the same weight, Matti’s a bit lighter. Saturday morning on 3rd of August at 10:30 we started from Altja.
We had only walked a kilometer when Oskar suddenly said “Stop”. His shoelace had broken. This did not look good – we had barely started and there was already a considerable problem of Oskar not being able to tie his shoes. Not good.
“Well, I have another set of shoes with me”
“No seriously, I have another set of shoes with me.”
I still thought he was joking. But he wasn’t. He did have another set of shoes with him, adding perhaps 600-700 grams of weight to the each step he took. But it had just proved to be a smart decision.
We continued and soon we made it to Oandu where we took maps from RMK and went to the official start of the longest trail in Estonia. Couple of pictures and muffins later we were joyfully walking towards Võsu, the first point at the trail. There was a lot of chat and pretty soon we were in Vosu where we had a lunch and then started moving forward.
When I lifted the backpack on my shoulder I noticed that it was actually quite heavy. But we only had 15km more to go to Nõmmeveski, the place we had picked to stay for the night. On our way to Nõmmeveski we actually missed the turns a few times, adding some distance to the trip. On one occasion I suddenly stopped saying whatever I was saying and said: “Guys, we are heading at a wrong direction! Let’s turn around and go back”. I did not have to look at the map to figure we were going wrong. It was the very same place we went wrong on our last year’s trip with bicycles. So if you plan to go to hike the trail, beware of one really sharp left turn between km’s 28-29 from the start – if you do not know to turn attention, you will miss that turn!
The closer we got to Nommeveski, the harder the walking was. The legs started to hurt and the backpack rubbed the shoulders. Matti with his slightly lighter backpack was constantly making tempo and at times we had to ask him to take it a bit easier. The last couple of kilometers were actually very hard. The trail went through the forest, turning left and right all the time and though Oskar’s GPS showed us we had less than a kilometre (on a straigth line) to Nommeveski, it took as ages to actually get there.
But we did get there. What a relief it was! As we started to make dinner, I suddenly realized that the primus and the gas I had brought did not fit. I had trusted my memory and since the gas looked almost the same as the last one I’d used with the primus, I had not double checked. And there you go, no using of primus this time. Fortunately RMK camping sites are very well equipped so we were able to cook with local equipment.
At dinner table I could not not notice Oskar bringing out tin cups with tuna.
“Man, these weigh quite a bit.”
“Yeah, I have some more of those too.”
This guy must be strong!
After dinner we went for a swim in the nearby river and chatted casually. I had no intention to go running, whatsoever. As it started darkening, some canoes made it to the shore and suddenly we had a company. Well, it was Saturday evening after all. The party settled and made a campfire and then one other guy came from forest and joined them. The guy was wearing a backpack, just like us, but, unlike us, also hiking boots. And he looked athletic. Noticing that we were hikers, he came to talk to us and as it appeared, the guy had just hiked the whole track (370 km) in 8 days – each day 40 to 50 km. He had brought all of his food with him and his backpack was 20 kilos at start. Respect.
We soon went to sleep but it wasn’t really until 3am or something when the party next door finished and we could really fall asleep. I was the first one up at seven, started the campfire to make breakfast and very soon Matti & Oskar also joined me. As we were finishing the breakfast I saw our new friend from last night tying the laces of his running shoes. I went to have a small chat and yes, the next day after finishing a gruelling hike, the guy went to have a morning jog. Not bad at all.
Off we went, 8:30am. I left the useless gas in the RMK hut – I’m sure somebody would find a good use for it – and brought less water with me. The first day I had brought 3,75 litres with me only to find that I only consumed 2 during the whole day. If we also consider the food I had eaten, I had some 3 kilos less on my shoulders than on the first day. Much better. And it showed – now I was the one to make the tempo.
The weather was really nice and it did not take us long to get to the next RMK campsite – Kalmeoja, 15km away. There we had lunch and guys went to swim. As we started going, I almost stepped on a viper – the first time to see this snake in nature in Estonia. Before crossing the Tallinn-Peterburg road we saw another hiker with huge bag walking the same direction. The guy had started from Oandu and wanted to make it to the finish in Ikla. He was rather a big guy and had started the day in Kalmeoja, meaning that by the time we passed him, we had walked 15 km more that morning. He already had some doubts about his all trip and was thinking about asking some friend to bring him a bicycle. A smart idea if you ask me – the trip is so much easier on paper than in reality.
Walking got hard for me a bit before Järvi Pikkjärve and it was a good relief to hold feet in the cold lake there. This was also the stop where I started to figure that just maybe I do not have enough food with me. So I did mental calculations on when I’d eat my food and started preserving it.
We made quite a long stop at Pikkjärve and then continued. Paukjärve was just a 5 km away and although the initial plan was to stay there, we decided to move until the next stop, Jussi Väinjärv, to leave as little as possible for the last day. Another hour later, just around 5pm there we were at Jussi Väinjärv, having covered again 32,5 km that day.
We erected tents and had dinner (I made sure I left enough food for next morning). I saw Oskar taking out some cups filled with corn and tuna respectively…both in water! Are you kidding me?! It’s so tough to walk with these bags and the guy is bringing corn in water with him?! It almost broke me as Oskar took out 4 apples. Four apples! And two of them made it back to Tartu, having travelled all of these 80 km with us for the three days. If the guys are strong enough, then the weight of the backpack does not matter, I guess.
After having dinner we just relaxed. Then I made some running moves and felt good, thus decided to go for a jog. I did, but soon enough realized that the toe blister I’d developed couple of hours before was not getting any better thus I ran only 4km. After that a short swim and we called it a day pretty soon.
Next morning we woke early, had breakfast (I left one muesli bar to the road), packed up and started walking 8:20am. We had 18 km to go, much less than previous 32,5km days, but in no way a trivial distance. The beginning was very joyful, very nice nature around us again. The closer we got to Aegviidu the harder the walking got. We only made short stops on the way and made it to Aegviidu already half past twelve in the morning. At Aegviidu there were nobody greeting us with flowers and air-balloons. We celebrated by having a nice lunch at Nelijärve. It was a great trip, everyone agreed.
The things I would do differently the next time I go on a multi-day trip:
– be *very* demanding about adding weight to the backpack: for example, 2L of water is sufficient, also it probably makes sense to have all the equipment as light as possible, even fewer socks
– maybe bring walking poles – I have yet to try them out
– last but not least: bring a fitting primus and gas
One thing I would definitely make the same is bringing exact amount of food. I actually had way more than 4000 kCal per day, and yet, this wasn’t enough. I know that in the desert runs where participants run a marathon a day and have all of their week’s food with them, the top contestants actually do take the minimum allowed (2000 kCal per day). The idea is to give them edge by having lighter bag. Beats me how they survive with it, I know I wouldn’t. Perhaps 3500 kCal I could do if I really carefully think through what it consists of. Food really weighs a lot. You will understand that once you are 20 kilometres into the trip.
All of us really enjoyed the hike. It was much harder than any of us expected, but enjoyable nevertheless. Alltogether we walked around 82 km-s with an average speed of 5kph. I didn’t mention it too much in the post, but the nature is really lovely and the trail goes through some extremely beautiful places. There are dozen reasons to go and I’m sure there will be more between me and this trail in the future.