Connections

6A2DED42-F412-49A7-8128-0011C79437BE

Saturday 15 July 2017: Vienna to Nürnberg

“Introduce a little variety.”

Never ones to allow things to get stale, we now find ourselves on our second, of what promises to be who-knows-how-many trains to, well, ultimately Calais; then, from Calais, to Dover

… by ferry

… hopefully.

Since Thursday a new, not entirely unexpected, but not the less unpleasant for that, sense of drama and emotion has been injected into the mix.

On an already emotionally tumultuous morning, whose occurrence feels spooky with hindsight, as the Czech/Austrian border lay less than 150 metres from me, the phone rang.

My sister.

I knew.

Mum.

Twenty-nine months after the first phone-call, when I began the process of grieving the essence of my mum, the moment her fighting physical form gave signs of resignation towards maintaining itself.

According to my sister, it could be as little as 24 hours.

This is the kind of information you feel you should be able to do something with. On a bike between two countries you have never called home, with nothing any longer like a home in the traditional bricks and mortar sense lying anywhere, with all that we own packed into the panniers attached to the only other concrete material things we possess, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or what I could do.

I knew that I had to get to England as soon as possible, for as long as necessary. I knew that I was in no situation at all to be able to drop everything, pause life here and fly there. This just wasn’t possible. The only option, which I guess made it a kind of solution, was to keep moving forward, play it by ear and cross the most appropriate bridge when the river presents itself.

On we went.

Having been put in touch with them through something of a European middleman for permaculture projects and eco-communities, Benjamin Smit – thank you Benjamin, and then checking out their online profile as nomadic souls who had met somewhere along their paths, settled down, and retained and developed their free-living spirit, I had been looking forward to meeting our hosts for the evening, Lisa and Joey. Different people, likeminded souls. It would be a shame if I couldn’t fully engage with my present due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But what will be will be: it will just be a question of paying respect to both moments as far as is possible.

We arrived in Mailberg, and what a beautiful warm welcome from the abundance of life in their home – from flora to fauna.

~~~~~~~~~~

The ride to Vienna was beautiful indeed; from the simply functional exactly-what-the-doctor-ordered breakfast; to the climbing up to greet the Alps; to the exciting descents, and the tailwind-assisted roll into Vienna; to sharing the way with the impressive Danube – wow! impressively set and impressive in size, and a great cycle path alongside it to enjoy it: you can certainly feel how Vienna came to be such an economic and political powerhouse with such a river to service its settlers.

And the arrival came. Another welcoming us as a friend, as we slung our things inside her cool tenement apartment in the heart of the city.

The evening was kept simple with a couple of beers at a Hofbrau place just a hop and a skip from the flat. Then bed beckoned: the blow-up mattresses serving us indoors as well as out.

B063CC64-89F9-4126-86DF-EE8F2F6528D8

As the morning opened up to let us in

a beep from my phone.

About a day and a half from the call came the text to confirm the feeling:

mum’s body had passed.

The river was here, but no bridge to be seen: you just look where you want to be and build it yourself.

England? From Vienna? Where will A stop? When are the flights? really infrequently; like two times a week; and we really can’t hang on, indefinite in time, waiting for the time the body’s cleared for the funeral.

Make our way to Bratislava. By the time we get there – 24 hours, we may know more. I can fly; A can stay and … or maybe steadily creep back to Poland’s door, where we can kick our heels while waiting for the call.

A plan.

Yes, a plan.

8657B70A-DB7B-4C3F-88AE-030CEB7D73E2

Vienna we enjoy as best we can, with a semblance of normality; and, to be honest, the powerful architecture did its job turning introspection into admiration. But with emotions so high, through this and through that, we tired soon and thoughts turned to food and beer.

A meal was cooked, and beer was drunk,
and a chilled evening smoothed edges,
and a hazy sleep came and welcomed me in
Making films out of childhood heroes.

I awoke feeling smooth,
until a little jar jagged
and all that was gone was returned.
And my partner in time echoed my mind
We’re going to England together.

The journey we’re on is always the one
We go where it takes us together.
The form may now change
as time rears its essence,
but it’s on the same path we set out.

We set out June 30.
Since then, more than ever
Plans became plots
that circumstance chose to deny
Neusiedler See
turned to Bratislava
Pausing our journey together

We continue along united
Together from here to there

And here was Vienna
and there is England
with who-knows-what in between?
And ferries and riding
with all that we have
Nomadic, with a geographical purpose.

Part of the journey
that makes up a life
Negotiating unforeseen corners

Respecting the life that passed in the night
to share in the love of close family
My partner in time beside me
The way that our path has to take

And feelings so right can’t be wrong

We can all make plans and prepare, but life has to be lived as it is experienced; not as an idea on a piece of paper.
As we set off to a club from our separate lives back in the Spring of 2000 till we closed the doors on our flat in Kraków, we’ve been journeying together one way or another.
This is just a little more overt in nature.

Now we carry all that we have
One place to the next
Sharing the life that we share

And this takes us there
And that brought us here
And onwards our little trip goes

A6168E1E-F938-443F-A1CA-4FB4766A80C0

22:27. We are on train number #4 from Plattling to Regensberg, where we hope to catch a connection to Nürnberg, which is due to arrive at 1am. It looks like we’ll be stuck there until morning, so a rough night in and around the station in prospect, but this is just another tale in a relationship involving some less than conventional travelling arrangements; though having the bikes with us (of course!), but as stationary baggage rather than baggage-and-person steeds, takes this out of the Planes, Trains and Automobiles category into some kind of challenge.

But we’re good at this – I think all humans are: our flexibility and our adaptability are two of our key strengths as a species. While many may fear being plunged into the unknown and having to constantly think on their feet to get from here to where they think they’d like to be, I think this is actually where the vast majority of us shine and thrive and feel alive live live.

Maybe that’s why we set out to do what we’re doing; and why this step needs to be seen as it is: as just another part of the journey, which will become part of the narrative; part of the lives.

Not that it really matters how it’s seen, in terms of a picture. It will, however, be a piece, and though, like all of the pieces, it will stand on its own with life of its own, without it, the space that will be left, the hole that will remain, will forever diminish the value of anything coming thereafter.

As you honour the past that allowed you to be, to lend love and support to significant others, all that speaks to me is love, though not in the abstract I share and feel every day, but in the visceral way that can sometimes burn, can sometimes sting, but is the love come of blood that is life.

And we go to celebrate and honour it – as we should and as we want.

I love you mum x

001B9C63-F637-4E6D-8154-794060A1CEB6

Ups and Downs

502EFEE8-1E4C-4337-BCBE-12E4DE87BAD5

Wednesday 12 July 2017: Těšetice to Mailberg

10:20am. 28.1ºC. Sunny. Hot.

Away we go again!

12.5k, 1 hour 10 minutes.

D76430C2-6916-4A58-895B-E5781D853482

Znojmo is a surprisingly pretty town, given that it’s practically on the border, with numerous piazzas, narrow cobbled streets, interesting architecture. Very nice. But it’s too far and too long to travel for breakfast.

9B634B2A-C0ED-4706-9D8B-A543096A68F7

13:30. New notebooks for handlebar bags bought. Next stop is likely to be in another country – Austria! Exciting. You experience so much of a place on a bicycle – sights, smells, sounds, tastes, terrains – that, despite enjoying being here (a lot), I think we are ready for a new vibe.

And Czechia really wants you to eat meat. Sad that it is cheaper to feed a vegetarian creature plants, kill it, prepare it, market it and sell it than it is to feed us predominantly plant-eating humans plants directly, thereby cutting out all that torture and bloodshed. Sad.

6EC64E9F-16CD-4A3B-80C8-04F2DBC6DA9F

Have turned life into an ordeal.

If Czechia made Hovis, this is where they’d film the adverts.

Given everything up to become a tramp.

An arduous trail out of Znojmo scattered with the shards of the shattered souls of cyclists come before.

“Vineyard city.”

I wish I cared. I don’t. All I want is … I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want this. I’ve had enough. The novelty’s worn thin. My nerves have worn thin. I’m feeling every minute of my 47 years 26 days on Earth in this form. I gave up trying to prove anything to others a while back, why should it be different with myself? Am I trying to prove something?

If so, I’m failing.

‘Enjoy’. ‘Have fun’. This is definitely not about that. It’s about, I guess, experiencing something unmediated, vividly. But why? I ask myself at the moment. Why?

It’s about pushing yourself forward when you really don’t think you can, and when you’re not even sure that you want to.

You can’t go back. You can never go back.

You can stop, but you don’t want to do that either.

So you go on.

Drawing Lines

1C37D5E6-262B-4D18-ACAA-4D01853C4407

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 😃

392D30C3-C2C3-4C25-9F3C-8369102EE020

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 😁

28F22069-2050-4B9F-B436-B2E8A0BFD62B

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.

FEA3D96E-11BF-4247-A5AB-DCCBDD6E82DB

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

Great stuff. So excited!