Drawing Lines

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Monday 03 July 2017: Bielsko-Biała to Cieszyn

It’s 6:45am. A hoarse cockerel is a-cock-a-hackle-a-phlegming. The Sun is shining. We’re super well fed – Teresa and Andrzej’s hospitality, once again, outstanding: home from home – and it’s time to hit the road again. Hooray!

But first, to decide in which direction to leave Poland and enter Czechia. Our original plan was, and maybe still is, to head for Wisła – the source of Poland’s great river – via Szczyrk, at around the 50km-mark, which makes for a pleasant day’s distance and will take us through some beautiful places, but – there is a ‘but’.

From our location South-East of Bielsko-Biała we have a 16km ride to Szczyrk. However, the entire way is a constant climb, and while none of it looks particularly steep, over an hour’s riding, carrying 30-35kg, in Poland’s Summer heat, non-stop, uphill, could be pretty demoralising, depending on how our green bodies and minds react. From there, the climbing continues until about 10km from Wisła – making 26-odd kilometres. So about three hours of constant climbing, ascending about 700 metres from our current position. We would then be rewarded by a rapid and constant descent into Wisła, which would be gratefully received for the last part of our journey, so … Option A.

Option B is the more typical route – similarly beautiful and scenic: we are already in the mountains and this is a beautiful region. This way to Cieszyn is much more undulating, so respite from the climbing, but there are some fierce gradients, which could make for some hairy and harsh riding; being the more popular route to the border may mean we’ll be trying to share the road with many more of the petrol-driven monsters that rule our lives, and fearing the intention of every vehicle that approaches. Coaches in particular seem to resent the bicycle and do their darnedest to squeeze them and fear them from the tarmac veins they must feel is their birthright.

Have just received a reply from some potential Warmshowers’ hosts, who are gracefully able to offer us accommodation; only for Tuesday evening, as they will be away for their own tour Wednesday morning, so, in order to realistically be able to reach there at a reasonable time for us and for them, Option B wins the day.

At 10:29am, with 101.27km and 7 hours 50 minutes riding on the clock, and a temperature of 21.3º on the thermometer, away we go! making our way towards Cieszyn, with a final destination of Vojkovice – in Czechia!!! At some point today, we’ll be crossing the border. To have cycled into another country: exciting 😃

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It’s now 12:09, and we stopped in Skoczów about 30 minutes ago, after just over an hour of beautiful riding; maybe the most enjoyable section of riding so far. Clear sunny skies, with a cooling breeze, and much undulation (trending generally downwards). We’ve encountered courteous car-drivers – on a Monday! – and a group of cyclists coming in the opposite direction as we entered Skoczów, where we exchanged friendly greetings that really warmed my heart and raised spirits even higher; though I must remember to be careful about exchanging greetings approaching a roundabout on a fully-laden bike, as the brief but significant front-wheel wobble urgently warned me 🤭

After doing my stretching in the charming Rynek in Skoczów while Agnieszka does a coffee and food run, I realise again how quickly things can change. I’m here in a strange town, alone (for the moment), in a Rynek, going through my stretching routine as if at home, without giving a shit about what the numbers of people passing by may think 😊

Skoczów: really lovely. Really.

And on we go, with 18 extra kilometres on the clock, so 119.47km, and almost nine hours of bike moving. We’ve, for sure, got more up than down into and through Cieszyn, but hey – whatever, whatever 😁

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At exactly 2pm, after practically ten hours of riding, three and a half days, and 134km, we stand half-way across a short bridge spanning the River Osle on the edge of Cieszyn … and at the beginning of a new country – Czechia!!! Despite the fact that it’s just another human-made boundary – actually, it’s a river, so quite a natural one, but you know what I mean – it’s a great feeling nonetheless. Wow!!! We remain Poland-side as we have paused for the obligatory – are they obligatory? – photos and selfies.

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Then, with a simple little push, we symbolically and politically 😱 enter a new world.

Great stuff. So excited!

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Shifting Terms

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Bielsko-Biała: Sunday 02 July 2017

Today has been about waking up in a bed, following the humbling, overwhelming hospitality of our overnight hosts, Andrzej and Teresa. Their lovely home, situated in what could almost be a village on the outskirts of Bielsko-Biała, with a view of the surrounding mountains, awaited, along with a super warm welcome, a beer and a feast of food; followed by an evening of easy banter and a chilled bottle of vodka.

After a quick shower, we snuggled into the bed and hazily connected our devices to the Internet. So lovely to see the messages of support from our friends and acquaintances: really nice. Thank you one and all.

We awoke some time before 10am – such a nice sleep; and such lovely smells ascending from the kitchen. Smells like Teresa and Andrzej have had a fantastic breakfast. But no, they haven’t. Not yet. They’re waiting for us, with another feast fit for a championship start the day. Again, lovely food and easy banter go down great: thank you so much to you both, and to your daughter, Asia. Wonderful people.

Which makes us think of the owner of the land where we pitched our tent the previous night. Again, wonderful, but consumed by first night, first morning thoughts, we neglected to get a photo with him. But thank you, anyway, Jacek – we won’t forget you (for all the right reasons).

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With a rest day – so soon? – we leave our bikes for one day to check out the city of Bielsko-Biała, taking the second part of its hyphenated name from the river on which it sits. It’s a damp, drizzly, overcast day, and we’re tired, though buzzing through a blend of strange adrenalins based on excitement, wonder, joy and mystery, and maybe fear with a touch of panic, too.

We discover quite a small old town swallowed by various versions of modernity, and, as you make your way towards the centre, it takes its time to work its magic on you. Approaching the heart, you seem to rewind through various epochs until mid-twentieth century socialist realism shifts into a maze of winding, cobbled, medievality.

It’s like a work-in-progress that hasn’t decided what it wants to be yet. But its clashes of derelict and renovated, old and restored, new and nature, do inspire a range of thoughts and emotions, and feelings and ideas. Yes, an inspiring mixture makes for an inspiring place.

The cacophony of times in these human artefacts actually heightens your sense of time here, and the fact that you’re constantly aware of your situation in relation to the mountains means there’s also a very real sense of place, which is somehow, for want of a better word, humbling.

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I like it here.

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And now: sugar.

A wonderful ‘szarlotka’. Boy! does Poland know how to do apple-crumble – a long time favourite of mine 😊 I can understand how I made this place my home for so many years.

Epilogue

Every day is a new experience. There is nothing predictable except our most immediate concerns. That’s how we wanted it and how we are liking it. Lovely.

Developing Patterns

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Jarszowice to Bielsko-Biała: Saturday 01 July 2017

8:12am. After a night when the dense Summer heat succumbed to a shower, accelerating towards a heavy downpour from midnight till around 2am, when I finally – taking its time despite being knackered – surrendered to sleep, we are now being called into the day by the urgent calling of a nagging rooster. Various other more soothing chirps, chirrups and whistles are primly and properly reminding him to chill out, and are taking the edge off his urgency.

The brief battle for dominance between five cuckoos earlier was very humorous, as they went at each other with their echoed cries, just once, but with each subsequent one sounding slightly more dominant than the other till they fell silent as abruptly as they had begun, satisfied in their familiar place in the pecking order to continue profiting from the riches of their gangster lifestyles.

The rooster’s silenced, the chorus of song surrounds, the dog that had briefly felt the need to show its worth against the rooster has also returned to slumber. It’s a damp, overcast, lazy Saturday. It’s a day when we must make our way to Bielsko-Biała. It’s also a morning in which we must try and pack things in a way that doesn’t get the dry things wet, the dry parts of the wet things wet, and in a way that the wet things can maybe dry a little or, at least, not get too stinky before our day’s destination. It’s a day that will be much like any other on the road: never really lazy, as such, though the demands are to our own direct needs, which makes a world of difference to the motivation to do them, and the inspiration to do them as well as we can.

Very happy we decided to see how the tent looks when properly pitched; not freestanding: with the panniers in their places in the vestibules, properly closed, despite the previous evening’s promise of a balmy Summer night, because it did piss it down, and pretty much all through the night by the look of it, or until about 6am when I had to answer a call of nature. And the equipment did pass its first test: we’re dry and our gear is dry, so that’s good, and a lesson is learnt about not taking the elements for granted, nor, especially, meteorologists forecasting a beautiful night: ‘science’? just guesswork decorated with a few fancy symbols to distract from the fact it’s all still a guess. Still, the equipment has done its job, so it’s now up to us to try and assist it in continuing to look after us.

And on that note, at 8:36am, it’s time to ease into the day …

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12:35pm. After much pannier packing adjustments (will be a while before we find a set up we’re happy with, but such steep learning curves inform you quickly), we’re ready to go …

… for breakfast 😁

A nice overnight and morning, and on we go; with 48.8km on the clock, three hours 59 minutes of actual riding done, and a sun-cream applying 31ºC embrace.

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1:15pm and we’re sitting outside at a restaurant on the Rynek in Wadowice – waiting for a pizza. Some stodge to fuel our way to Bielsko-Biała. Lovely church if you like that kind of thing, which is not surprising given we’re in the birthplace of John Paul II.

We hungry.

Could have been a hit or a miss – was a hit, and the remaining pizza can come along with us for later. Yum!

Have just contacted our hosts in Bielsko – parents of a good friend, Asia 😃 – to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you for the offer of putting us up for the night’, and give them our ETA; and now a bit of pedalling – finally!

It’s 2:15pm. We’re really going to enjoy this and not kill ourselves to prove some point to no-one. We’re as green as leaves in Spring and are gonna ease our way into things 😌

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Stop at the top of a steep climb for a photo opportunity. Nice. Quick bend and touch the toes to stretch a bit.

“I’ve got a tick!”

To one of the first-aid kits – the one that we switched to a more accessible front pannier this morning 🤗

“Are you sure it’s in here?”

Quick, read the instructions! Freeze, remove – voila! Emergency Tick Removal – ☑️ (cough cough).

“Feels like it might rain later.”

“Shit!” Tumbling from the peaks towards us – the storm from Hollywood City!

“Ponchos on!” Ponchos on.

And off we go.

“I’m getting a bit warm.”

Aaannd ponchos off.

Mountainous regions are well known for the unpredictability of their weather, but it only really hits home the more at the mercy of it you are.

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And we undulate into the town of Kęty. Pretty, in the sense that it’s looked after. I sit on a bench in the Rynek, listening to the fountain, soaking in its floral decorations and eating cold pizza. And pretty in the sense that you can see the surrounding mountain peaks it sits within. Lovely.

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77.7km on the clock, with six hours eight minutes of the bikes moving, so that’s almost 30km. About 15km until our destination [turned out to be 24], so about 75 minutes, plus finding where we’re stopping [which turned out to be easy as one of our fantastic hosts, Andrzej, met us in Bielsko on his bike to lead us the winding way to his lovely home], so upwards of two hours probably. We’ve got a mapping application in our iPads – maps.me – which is fine, but they’re stored in our rear panniers till the end of the day 🤔

We don’t want our ride to be determined by where we should be – and when, but by where feels good and feels right. GPS deprives you of that sense of following your heart; and I feel we all have an instinct for choosing the right direction: drunken radar, of course, being the most familiar and rudimentary form. Of course, at night we refer to it to work out the next day but, once we’re off, that’s it! Nice to know it’s there, though, as it comes in handy when we’re trying to navigate the less scenic urban streets when we’re having to look for something in particular.

Nice day, though 😁

Some beautiful views and roads. Completely silent at times. Despite the fact that we are climbing today, and I think the largest, longest climb of the day is still ahead of us [it was – we climbed to our maximum altitude, which was beautiful yet so brief as we instantly descended obscenely rapidly into Bielsko], it is even more undulating, so plenty of respite before the next big push. Hills are always worth it, though, whether for the view or the roll down 🙃