Autumn Overland Tour to Sēlija

in Guided Adventure Tours,Overland Tours

Overland Tours

Autumn Overland Tour to Sēlija

Fantastic off road driving day – that’s how we could describe in one sentence the Autumn Overland Tour, organized by Baltic Adventure Tours, to Sēlija – the most mysterious region of Latvia.

Sēlija (Selonia)

Traditional Yard in Sēlija (Selonia)

Sēlija (Selonia) is a cultural region of Latvia, around one hundred kilometers to South from the capital city Riga. It has outer borders with Lithuania and Belarus. Sēlija is quite underpopulated, there are large forest tracts and a lot of swamps. In 13 century it was inhabited by selonians (sēļi). The name of the region and the inhabitants is derived from the Livonian name sälli which means the upper (people). And with this name the local inhabitants were known to the Livonians and German travelers. The Selonian language existed until 14 or 15 century. Today Sēlija is an unexplored territory for a big part of Latvian population.

The Saturday morning begins with the preparation of picnic basket for a nice meal in the woods. Thermos gets some nice and sweet black tea, cheese lies on bread of “Lāči” which is very popular in Latvia, smoked chicken gyros comes from the place of similar popularity – “Rubeņi” and dark chocolate for the dessert.

It seems that this day of November is going to be sunny; it is around +6°C and in some places on the edge of forest the swaths of fog are rolling, warmed by the first beams of the morning sun. At 10 a.m. fourteen 4×4 jeeps are gathering in Ķegums to participate in overland tour and get a taste of Latvian autumn in the woods and off-roads of Sēlija.

Some of the 4×4 jeeps are well prepared for off road driving. They are lifted, equipped with winches, towing ropes, GPS navigation devices and good mud tyres. Several drivers are going in this off road adventure with less equipped Toyota Land Cruiser 120. But the greatest intrigue is about completely new 2010 Range Rover Supercharger that is totally unequipped for off road driving, but still is going to participate in Overland Tour.

Edvīns, the managing director of Baltic Adventure Tours, hands out the route maps to all the drivers of 4×4 jeeps and holds a short meeting where he reminds the most important off road driving tips. It is 10.40 a.m. and the Autumn Overland Tour can begin. With Māris as pilot and Edvīns as co-driver we are leaving Ķegums and heading in the direction of Jaunjelgava with well equipped 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser RJ 70 of short wheel base. We turn to the Lindes park to see the ruins of Lindes manor house. The road leads us to the shore of Daugava, where probably used to be the crossing place of the river.

We take some pictures near the arch-shaped gate of the manor and the column of 4×4 jeeps proceeds deeper in the woods of Sēlija, where the first off road adventures of Autumn Overland Tour will soon begin. All of a sudden we have been given our first off road driving exam on a narrow forest road – there is a fully loaded logging truck Volvo FH12 with trailer on our way and to interchange with it, the off road jeeps must flee into the wood.

Overland tour 4x4 jeeps in the wood

After a while the column of 4×4 jeeps turn off the road and continue to drive on soft and scrubby off road. After we have crossed the mud we stop and walk back to watch with real interest – how our companion with his completely new Range Rover that has run only 1350 km yet and has common summer tyres would cross this small but muddy off road area! The Range Rover off road jeep dealt with this task very well, though a little later he discovered that he must change the rear tyre which was stabbed.

After we got back on the road, we began the change of Range Rover tyre in the 21-century style. All the participants of this off road tour helped the driver of Range Rover to find the most convenient spot for the highjack between the body of the off road jeep and the electric doorsteps, that slide out automatically every time the doors are opened. This change of the tyre is being filmed with Samsung iPad-type tablet. And so we had spent half an hour in fun and laughter, hoping that there will be no need to change the other tyre.

Further on the track of Autumn Overland Tour there will be a small river that we will have to cross. Edvīns promises that this is the place where the most exciting off road adventures of Overland Tour are expected. We are driving through a farmstead where 4 dogs and a bunch of turkeys greet us. Edvīns has already prepared champagne and chocolate for the landlady as a small gratitude for the fact that she allows several off road jeeps to drive through her yard. Some of the off road drivers are taking pictures with the turkeys and the landlady warns us to be careful when crossing the “dreadful” ditch near the house, because “once even her dog fell in there”. We smile and proceed.

The small river meets the 4×4 jeeps of Autumn Overland Tour with deep, muddy wheel tracks on both shores. Toyota Land Cruiser, piloted by Māris, crosses the river with no problems and stops to watch how the other off road drivers will succeed. Again the greatest intrigue is about Range Rover Supercharger of 510 h.p.

Off Road Driving Tip:
the deep and muddy wheel tracks make us to think of the tactics of river crossing. As the wheel tracks are deep, even a well equipped off road jeep would “strand”. Therefore it is important to start the movement slowly, not to fall in the wheel tracks with all your wheels and to step on gas only when your 4×4 jeep is going already downwards into the river – so that you would have enough power and speed to overcome with inertia the upward wheel tracks on the other side of the river.
Before this obstacle you must choose the appropriate reduction gear, switch on the front axle of your 4×4 jeep and lock the differentials – if the switching of axles and locking of differentials are operated separately. It is recommended to switch of the front lights of the off road jeep when driving into a deep water, but in the part of Europe where we must alt the time drive with the lights turned on, it’s not always possible. More Off Road Driving Tips how to cross a river

This time a surprise form the side of one short wheelbase Toyota Land Cruiser 120 – it fails the river crossing and is not able to get out without assistance. Another Toyota helps to draw it out. The off road drivers consider that the soft rubber Bridgestone Blizzak winter tyres could be blamed in this situation, because the protector of these tyres is not able to depurate from the mud.

Now it is time for the Range Rover to cross the river, but… no surprises here this time – the new and shiny off road jeep with the first scratches of the branches on the sides and smooth Continental summer tyres crosses the river with no problems and almost manages to drive up the slope on the other shore. Just a little help is required and another off road jeep helps and draws the “sitting” Range Rover out of the wheel tracks.

When the river crossing show is over, we all stop at a sunny and nice edge of the forest to have a lunch. The picnic basked with the hot tea is just the right thing that’s necessary to reinforce for the further off road adventures.

Toyota Land Cruiser crosses the river

Edvīns has one peaty place in mind, so together with Māris he is going to examine it before other drivers. He wants to make sure that all the off road drivers will be able to cross it and would get in time at culmination point of Autumn Overland Tour – the fantastic Kankaļi Church near the border of Lithuania, where a meeting with the bishop is arranged.

It took around one hour while all off road drivers get over the peaty stage of approximately 50 metres. Most of the 4×4 jeeps couldn’t get through without wincing. The fancy Range Rover also stuck in the peat and was towed out by winch. For another off road driver it is a solemn moment – his Toyota Land Cruiser 120 off road jeep will be able to test the new winch.

Off Road Driving Tip:
when crossing the peaty places with 4×4 jeeps, it is recommended to examine the possible trajectory in advance to be able to avoid the stumps that are overgrown with moss and some deep and wet places. If possible let the wheels of off road jeep near the trees – the roots are making more firm foundation under the wheels. It is important to drive through such peaty places with an even speed, without skidding the wheels of 4×4 jeep – so that you wouldn’t tear the fragile topsoil that is thin but has firmly grown together and is able to hold the off road jeeps on surface. When the 4×4 jeep start to skid, the thin turf is damaged and wheels sink into the peat. Then the only salvation is winching because it its almost impossible to get the wheels of 4×4 jeep back on the surface of the turf. During the winching the gearbox must be set in neutral, because the additional spinning of the wheels would only make the off road jeep to sink deeper and would make wincing more difficult. More Off Road Driving Tips

During the winching Edvīns assists several participants of Autumn Overland Tour who have little experience in off road driving – he suggests the best ways of using the winch in different situations.

On the right side there’s Lake Aklais and a scenic road curve with bent swamp birches on the sides and nice bluish-grey Iceland lichens on the slopes. There are several new hunting towers placed like guards on the sides of the road. But we didn’t see any hunter though it is Saturday and at the very beginning of the Overland Tour we assumed that in this area some hunting would probably take place.

Shower of mud

The participants of Autumn Overland Tour say goodbye to the last sunbeams and just before the twilight Edvīns organizes a little “roller coaster” – steep, sandy slopes and descends on forest firebreaks. Our Toyota 4×4 jeep with the experienced off road driver Māris at the wheel overcomes almost all the slopes without the front axle switched on. Still we must do it at the steepest upgrade.

Overland Tour 4x4 jeeps in the wood

We still have some time to spend before arriving in Kankaļi Church and we decide to try another excellent place of off road adventures. It turns out to bet so wet that even our Toyota Land Cruiser RJ 70 that is very well equipped for off road driving can’t get out without winching and without turning-on the ARB differential lockers. We understand that for the off road jeeps that are not so well equipped, not even talking about 3 tonne Range Rover, this off road stage is going to be too difficult and is going to take more time than we have, so this time we decide to pass it.

On the edge of a big field in a misty twilight solitude the there is Kankaļi Church and it’s bell-tower that stands aside. While the participants of Autumn Overland Tour are taking pictures, we are witnesses of a scene just like from the old days – right across the meadow the bishop is coming together with some parishioners that have arrived specially due to our visit from the heart of the Sēlija region – Nereta.

The choir starts singing in the little wooden church and in the candlelight the off road drivers are introduced to the history of Kankaļi wooden Church that was built in 1893. As turns out, due to the little population, the religious service in Kankaļi Church is held only one in a year – on June 24, St. John the Baptist Day – just like priest Rancāns had stated in the Consecration Act of the Church. We had the chance to see the original of this Act and according to this relic document the Kankaļi Church was consecrated in June 24, 1923 and ever since the religious services are held every year in that date.

The Autumn Overland Tour is slowly approaching to its ending. It is completely dark outside and we are taking some narrow and winding forest roads and are going in the direction of Jaunjelgava where in the pub “Pie Aivara” there is dinner served for the off road drivers. Still one last off road adventure appears on our way in a form of wet and short pothole on the forest road. Some 4×4 jeeps must use the winch.

After half an hour of activities in the light of lamps the participants of Autumn Overland Tour are ready to continue their way to Jaunjelgava.
It is already a tradition of Baltic Adventure Tours that during the dinner Edvīns, the organizer of Autumn Overland Tour, awards the off road drivers with memorial diplomas. A nice 3 meal dinner strengthens for the way back to Riga, so that we’ll meet again sometime around the Christmas in the next off road adventure tour by Baltic Adventure Tours. See Autumn Overland Tour’s gallery

The route of Autumn Overland Tour to Sēlija

See larger map

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