Exit, pursued by a bee

Cape Kolka, Latvia

Bowmore Duck

Sculpture by Anna Heinrihsone at Saunags

Saunags, Kurzeme, Latvia

One thing to be said for the part of Kurzeme around Kolka is that it is flat. In fact, it’s as flat as … well, as flat as a very flat thing. That makes it ideal for bicycling. Or so I thought.

The first problem that I noticed was the monotony. As I rode down a wide, very straight road - so wide and straight that even if I hadn’t known it was originally built as an emergency airstrip during the Soviet era, I might have guessed - I felt the unending succession of pine trees start to drag on my soul. I looked for anything that might break the repetition. Look, there’s a stand of bog cotton. Wow, a silver birch. Hey, nice cloud.

Leaving the road at Vaide, I followed the signs to the Ragu Kolecija - the “horn collection”, a museum of antlers painstakingly assembled by local forest rangers, and one of the big tourist draws in these parts. Once I actually got there, I decided that I was not yet quite so understimulated that browsing through hundreds of assorted antlers seemed like a good idea, but it was nice to get off the wide flat road and bump along some sandy forest trails for a while.

Pitragi, a little further on, had some mildly pretty houses. Kosrags, for no reason I could easily understand, had an immense pink duck and not very much more. Then it was back onto the main road through the pines for the final leg down to Mazirbe.

The Liiv museum was closed. I bought some water at the village store, and braced myself for another twenty kilometers of pine trees on the return journey. I swung my leg over the saddle, put my foot to the pedal and then, out of nowhere, ‘they’ appeared.

I had noticed earlier in the day that the local insects appeared to have difficulty avoiding obstacles. From time to time, I’d hear a sudden drone and then something the size of my thumb would blunder into me with an audible smack, before buzzing stupidly away into the distance. I don’t know if their ultimate goal was to end it all by flying into the open mouth of a passing cyclist, or if some kind of strange prestige attached to flying into something that wasn’t a pine tree. The occasional collision, however, quickly became routine.

Now, however, they came not as single spies, but as entire battalions. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a whole swarm of large insects that all seemed determined to fly into me, or land on me, or weave disconcertingly around my head. I couldn’t immediately see what they were: bees, or hornets, or some species of large fly, but they were all around me, zig-zagging and circling. I waved my arms ineffectually. They dodged nimbly, buzzing scornfully.

Distrusting their intentions, I did the only thing I could do. I pedaled as fast as I could. For a few moments, the acceleration provided some relief. The insects that had been buzzing back and forth in front of my face disappeared. Then, as soon as I slowed just slightly, they were back. I accelerated again and they vanished, only to reappear the second that I slowed down.

I quickly figured out the rules. If I pedaled like hell, I could keep them behind me, but I could never get rid of them. Looking down, I could see my shadow on the road, accompanied by a handful of little black shadows that dipped and dived in my wake. I rode hard and fast, but the insects - now identified as some kind of large black fly about the size of a bulked-up horsefly - weren’t giving up. You don’t think of flies as being fast movers in the long haul, but these guys kept up with me, kilometer after kilometer, while I ducked my head and pedaled for all I was worth. Even a headwind that should have worked in my favor couldn’t keep them off my back.

Spurred on by my unwanted admirers, I covered the homeward leg in a fraction of the time it had taken me to ride out. If the Mazirbe-Kolka Dash ever becomes a recognized cycling event, I flatter myself that I’ve already got a qualifying time under my belt. Pine trees flew past, and I was at Pitragi before I knew it.

There, my salvation appeared. Two muscular figures in spandex zipped past, going the other way. Almost at once, most of my escort seemed to vanish. I don’t know whether the other cyclists simply looked tastier, or if the flies decided that two young giants on real racing bikes offered more of a challenge than some tourist on a mountain bike. Whatever the reason, the buzzing cloud seemed to evaporate. A couple stayed with me for another five hundred meters and then they too fell away, leaving me to admire the pine trees unmolested as I rode on towards Kolka.