In the beginning there were supposed to be 5 of us. Then, as the annual hike got closer, people started to drop off. Some for the medical reasons, some for the fitness reasons. A few days before the start it was clear – it would be just me and Matti this time.
In 2012 we (me and Tiimar back then) cycled through the Trail the Estonia’s (Matkatee) northern track in 3,5 days (read here and here). In 2013 me, Matti and Oskar walked through the first 80 km of the northen track in 3 days (read here). This time, the plan was ambitious – cycle the recently-opened Trail the Estonia’s (Matkatee) southern track, start in Vara (by first cycling from Tartu to Vara, 20km) and finish at the end of the track, Ähijärve, cycling from Ähijärve to Valka 35km to get to the train back Tartu – averaging 120km per day. What made this plan even more ambitious, was the fact that the southern Estonia is quite hilly and with all the equipment all those uphills would be demanding.
I had not done almost any cycling at all, let alone MTB. Therefore, to get some practice, I decided to cycle Elva and Otepää MTB-race Open Tracks. Both of these were around 70km and another similarity between them was that I was almost equally wasted after these events. This made me think – if 70km with no equipment is such an effort, then maybe the 120km with 25kg bags, 4 days in a row is not such a smart move. After some studying of the trail map I made the decision – we’ll take a train to Vastse-Kuuste and cycle 10km from there to Ahja. This would make the whole trip around 400km – 100km/day, less than previously planned, but still tough enough to be a challenge.
Matti, for his part, competed in Tour de France in preparation for the event. Sure, it was a single stage, but what a stage for that matter. A first-grade mountain with couple of 2-nd and third grade ones to follow. Before the trip, he totalled around 1600km while I stood at meager 400km of milage.
Day 1- Friday, 8th of August
Start: 10:57 am @Vastse-Kuuste
Finish 5:30 pm @Mustjärv
Distance: 90,3 km
Average speed: 16,8 km/h
Maximum speed: 50,3 km/h
* Last Relic (Viimne Reliikvia) movie scene places
* Lunch near Põlva lake
* Getting lost several times due to missing or confusing signs
* Spending overnight at Mustjärv RMK open hut. Lauri’s glad to step off the bike.
Day 2 – Saturday, 9th of August
Start: 7:50 am @Mustjärv
Finish 7:15 pm @Kavadi järv
Distance: 117,5 km
Average speed: 15,1 km/h
Maximum speed: 48,0 km/h
* Valgjärv, the lake we swam across 2 am in the morning in 2005 night X-Dream Ilumetsa
* Värska, Värska vesi, factory and Setomaa Teahouse
* Lauri lost his sunglasses
* Very sandy forest between Värska and Luhamaa border crossing
* Lunch camp at place called Lunch Camp (Lõunalaagri)
* Luhamaa border crossing
* Piusa caves
* Piusa river valley and carrying the bike uphill uphill again and again
* Numerous slow field singles
* Finally getting out of Piusa River valley only to get hit by torrential rain
* Meeting Dr. Holden himself just after the rain
* Vana-Vastseliina people are helpful, but the rules are the rules – “Yes, the track goes indeed through the remains of the castle, but you can’t go through the castle, because there’s an event and you don’t have the ticket. Just go back over the hill that you just descended from.”
* Whoever said that Estonia is flat has definitely never cycled this track before
* Let’s stay overnight at Kirikumäe. Whoops, we missed the turn and it would be 4km to go back..Matti’s getting crumpy, but a yoghurt helps.
* Finally we continued and stayed overnight in tent at Kavadi Järv
* The matches made by SIA VENGO Riga are the lousiest matches I’ve ever seen
Day 3 – Sunday, 10th of August
Start: 7:51 am @Kavadi järv
Finish 6:50 pm @Alumati
Distance: 124,6 km
Average speed: 16,2 km/h
Maximum speed: 46,0 km/h
* It rains pretty much through the night, but by morning it has stopped
* The track departing from Kavadi järv follows the track of Haanja Rattamaraton, a very slow start to the day..
* ..but it gets much better. The road between Haanja and Rõuge is one long downhill.
* In Rõuge we make a rather long “energy pause” in a cafeteria, using the time to charge our iPhones and iPad
* after Rõuge everything is great: the sun is shining, the track is good speed, everything works
* we have lunch at Metsavenna Talu, having covered 63 km already. Food is nothing special, but iPhones and iPad are even more thankful
* We miss the turn to the southernmost point of Estonia so have to turn back, adding in effect some 7-8 km to the distance.
* after having solved the signs-puzzle, putting in those extra miles, sprinting from an angry dog and making our way through the swamp we get to the southernmost point of Estonia – nice!
* we make a decision to aim the 2 pm train from Valga next day – this means we have to push it hard today to leave as little as possible for the final day.
* After 125 km we get to Alumati, an amazingly beautiful place and spend the night in a tent there.
Day 4 – Monday, 11th of August
Start: 7:31 am @Alumati
Finish 12:05 pm @Valga (9:15 am @Ähijärve)
Distance: 67,9 km
Average speed: 17,7 km/h
Maximum speed: 53,7 km/h
* Earliest start yet
* Nice and easy track and not as many uphills as in previous days
* We advance quickly and are at the end of the track – Ähijärve – already 9:15 am
* Our first shower in days in Ähijärve
* The final 36 km from Ähijärve to Valga is not that easy for the headwind, but it is still rewarding
* We get to Valga around 12 pm, well ahead of schedule
* We eat in Valga in a cafeteria called “Kohvik”. The food is good.
* 2 pm we board the train: I leave in Tartu, Matti continues to Tallinn.
Overall, it was a great trip. The total distance covered was 401 km and I must admit, it was a bit too much. We did not have much time to enjoy all the surroundings, but were constantly on the go. Perhaps the only day we took it a bit easier was the Day 3, when we, counterintuitively, covered the longest distance. This was helped by the fact that the tracks were good and there was a lot of descent in Day 3. The hardest day objectively was Day 2.
We have already plans for the next year, too. Now, having had a multi-day hike in August for 3 years in a row, it would be shame not to continue this tradition. But next year we will do it a bit more relaxed. Maybe then there would be a larger attendance, too.:)