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Trip 32 -- Hiiumaa Walk

Day 5: The Kõpu peninsula
Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Today: 53886 steps/42.17 km/26.20 mi/7h 43m
Total: 196139 steps/151.62 km/94.21 mi/28h 23m

My goal for today was to walk the length of the Kõpu peninsula to Ristna lighthouse and return via Kõpu lighthouse. I had hoped to leave by 8:30, but fortunately I didn't, because it was around that time that it started pouring: the first rain I'd seen since the trip began.

When it stopped, the air was fresh and cool. The damp dirt road reminded me of Maine after a summer sprinkle. I headed west, through forest that seemed to go on forever.

For an hour I saw no humans, but there were mosquitoes aplenty. I had resumed my brisk pace, and about every fourth step had me kicking a leg up and slapping my calf, sometimes with the corresponding hand and sometimes with the opposite, a peculiar kind of bug-inspired calisthenics. When things went well, I could segue the slap into a peeling of the insect's corpse off my body, followed by an examination of approval and a satisfying flick of its remains into the dirt.

Whereas yesterday's walk was hot and tough from the start, today's was a breeze, and not just because of the wind. The rain had made the dirt ever so slightly squishy, allowing me to infuse each step with extra bounce. The cloud cover kept things cool, and the path was wide and flat and easy to follow.

I also had plenty of water, two and a half liters. It weighed down my bag, but at least I had the convenience of leaving everything else in my cabin, and the bag would get lighter the more I drank.

My route through the forest ended, and I joined the highway. The traffic was never fierce, but there was a surprising preponderance of trucks. There were just a few villages in western Kõpu. What were they all bringing? And being back on asphalt confirmed that packed dirt is more pleasant on the feet.

Still, today's first 20 kilometers went a lot faster and more pleasantly than yesterday's. At the far western end of the peninsula, Ristna lighthouse appeared abruptly out of the forest; I'd expected to see it poking through well in advance, but it was blocked by trees until the last moment.

It also wasn't open, even though several signs had indicated that it should be. The gate was chained. I proceeded down through the woods to the beach, where to my relief, the Paradise Beach Bar was serving burgers and drinks from a walk-up window.

But first I asked, "Do you know why the lighthouse is closed?"

"It's closed? It should be open. Maybe they went away for a few minutes."

"Well, you're open. And you have food. So it's time for lunch."

He explained all the burgers they served -- and they served no food but burgers. They all had different names -- the "Moving Mountains" burger was the vegan option -- and clearly I was meant to have the "Palle" burger, with two patties, brie, yellow cheese, sweet onions, and bacon. And a slightly fizzy meadowsweet-flavored soda. The prices were on the high side (€15 for a deluxe burger felt more like a city price), but someone has to get all that stuff there and carry it out (maybe one of those trucks).

I sat inside, looking out -- by now the clouds had gone and the sun was strong. Caribbean music filled the air. The beach had a modest-sized group of sunbathers and swimmers, and nearby one could rent small sand-roving vehicles.

"Your burger," the young man said. "And the lighthouse is open now. The workers were hanging out somewhere, but they're back."

The burger was presented in one of those waxy paper food envelopes. It was enormous with all those layers, and I was certain that as I started nibbling away at it, the meat juice would leak through and start dripping down my mosquito-bitten legs. (I've been practicing making food sound sexy.) But that never happened. I finished the entire burger without losing a drop.

I started to take the road around to the lighthouse rather than cut through the forest, but a distant rumble of thunder made me rethink in favor of the shortest route. I purchased a combination ticket for Hiiumaa's three most important lighthouses: Ristna, Kõpu, and Tahkuna, the last to be visited on Friday.

Ristna is a steel-and-iron structure built by the Russians in the 1870s. It was heavily damaged by Germany in World War I. I climbed the 109 steps up the spiral staircase. For a moment I was the only one at the top, but a group soon joined me. It was windy, and I liked not being alone up there.

We kept seeing lightning, sometimes strong, vertical flashes in the distance over by Kõpu, but the storm seemed to be moving out to sea.

One man from the group looked at his phone. "Did you all get a tornado warning?"

"Mine is out of battery," his friend said.

"I didn't get it," another one said.

"I didn't, but I'm on a Spanish SIM card," I started to say. But by now it was clear he had tricked us, and we started laughing. A tornado in Estonia? (I looked it up later and it's not unheard of. But it might never have happened on Hiiumaa.)

I followed them down the spiral staircase and started to head toward Kõpu lighthouse. The wind had picked up and the thunder was intermittent, but the weather report on my phone showed no chance of rain (or tornadoes). I thought about waiting until the thunder had subsided, but I didn't want to lose time.

I had ten kilometers to go, most of it on a dirt track. I got about two kilometers in and of course that's when the skies opened up. There were no buildings or any kind of shelter. I started running.

I decided that being on a moderately wide dirt road going through the forest was pretty safe. If lightning was going to strike something, it would probably be a tree, and if a tree fell, it would be very unlikely to do so into the middle of the road. The thunder went on for 30 seconds at a time, not just short booms but rumbles that broadened and then settled as they developed, like waves crashing at a shore and then hissing into dissipation. I couldn't figure out where the storm was. Every thunderclap seemed to come from a different direction.

The shelter I found, after about 20 minutes, could not have been more appropriate: a phone booth featuring a telephone from the Soviet era. The dial was missing, but the receiver and the numbers were there, as was the slot for a two-kopeck coin or two one-kopeck coins. (When I visited Russia in 1990, two kopecks was the equivalent of about a third of a penny on the official exchange, less than half that on the black market.)

After about ten minutes (long enough for me to review the emergency numbers and read the instructions for using the phone and what to do if the call didn't connect), the rain had let up enough for me to continue. The ground had gotten quite soggy, and in some places the road was flooded. Usually I could walk just off the road, but once In a while I had to go straight up the middle, discovering that this model of Hoka shoes is not waterproof above the sole. One time I detoured briefly into the forest, and once I had to pick my way along some thorny bushes.

Like Ristna's, the Kõpu lighthouse appeared without warning as I proceeded up a hill. What a noble structure this was. It was originally built in 1527-31 as a beacon, just a tall structure to be seen from afar. Light was added in 1649, originally as a fire from forest wood hoisted up the sides with rope. In the early 1800s oil replaced firewood, and then petroleum took over. Electricity didn't come until 1963. The lighthouse is on the highest point of Hiiumaa, at 68 meters, and its height, which has been added to over the centuries, is 37 meters. Its climb is 118 steps, many quite steep.

Below was a friendly cafe where I had a dinner of meatball soup and a crepe with meat and cheese, and I took away two beers to have back at my cabin. I still had two hours of walking. The rain had stopped, and except for one brief passage, the dirt road was not flooded. The last 5¼ kilometers were a retracing of the start of my walk this morning.

I arrived at the Pauka Puhkemaja just before ten. The setting sun was casting a glow on the property, and I was eager to open a beer.

But I couldn't get to my cabin. The lawn was flooded.

I walked around the structure. There was no way to do it. Someone had placed a rubber mat at the edge of the flooded section, as if I might use it as a raft. But the water was far too deep.

I went up to the main house. No one in charge was there, just two guests watching television. I brought two of the deck chairs over to my cabin. I had some idea that I might sit in one where the flooding started, move the other behind it and switch to that one, and keep on moving the chairs and alternating which one I was sitting in until I got to the patio steps.

I didn't need to do all that. One chair was enough, although my shoes got soaked once more. I used the rubber mat to step into the flood zone and then stepped on one of the chairs. From there I grabbed the wooden railing and swung myself onto the patio.

As for how I'm getting out tomorrow, well, as the Estonians say, "Ootame, vaatame" -- let's wait and see.

Go on to day 6