Unmooring

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Friday 07 July 2017: Biskupice to Zlechov [Part 2]

Today we were washed away on a tide of rain. As the chilled rousing progressed: “It’s raining!” And then, “Kurwa!” Thunder cracked open the heavens to release the torrent. Still, eight mornings into our ‘what-exactly-is-it-they’re-doing?’ and we were much more efficient at decamping, packing, and rolling. Of course, things were still wet – there was no way they wouldn’t be – but our fear or concern about them being so was now negligible to non-existent, as long as we get an opportunity to air them at some point before making camp later.

“Are we making camp later?”

The rain was non-stop and torrential, the clothes I had chosen to wear were unsuitable: I wasn’t just getting wet, which was unavoidable, I was holding water – and getting cold. My poor decision-making in this regard heightened my misery: as an experienced runner, I am aware of how fabrics react to and interact with moisture.

I was being unnecessarily harsh, as there was no way, to my inexperienced eyes, of knowing that the weather wouldn’t turn; but when you’re in a slump, there’s a masochistic streak to pile a bit more on to make for a more immersive wallow.

And the hills – motherfucker! – the hills. The profile for today’s prospective ride looked like two Ss fallen on their sides. The climbs were interminable and steep. The descents were Alton Towers Unplugged. And part of you wondered why someone hadn’t thought to iron this part of the world flat, as, eventually, it all equalled out, anyway.

As we pushed our stubborn steeds up an unfeasibly long 12% climb, we knew we would have to review our goal for the day – both in terms of distance to cover and shelter over our heads.

If there was to be no let up in the rain, which looked wholly likely, there would be no opportunity to air the tent and let it dry out. After two hours of hardcore riding, in torrential rain, in soggy clothing (me), with malfunctioning lights (Agnieszka), the prospect of pitching a wet tent, in rain, piss wet through, stole the glints from our eyes.

This was also the fifth day in a row that we were out on the bikes, and while we had planned for six and a rest day, our green legs, combined with constant mountain terrain and, on all but one of the days, navigational distractions, roused a faint lullaby promising we’d maybe stay in a B+B this evening.

As the cold became a constant chill, I decided to put pedal to the metal and put some distance between Agnieszka and me, so that I could find time to stop and change into the more suitable attire I knew I had packed. After steaming up and into, and dashing down and through, and pushing up and out of a village or three, I paused on a peak to remove soggy layers and delve into panniers I hadn’t thought would be necessary until day’s end. As the layers came off, a bemused family of four wrestling an empty pushchair with a squeaky wheel up the hill walked by. They gawped incredulously at the half-naked middle-aged man continuing his striptease in the piss wet rain while enthusiastically blurting some sounds at them that were more akin to insanity than to the ‘good-day’ in Czech I was pitifully mimicking.

But the change of clothes was good and as we rolled into Napajedla for breakfast/lunch – all this and we still hadn’t had breakfast, even coffee – my spirits rose and my mad laughter at the ridiculousness of our situation had given way to a reasonable person’s optimism.

We enter a(nother) pretty little town that seems to consist of one main street of prettiness with, no doubt, streets branching off that lessen in prettiness as curious outsider numbers diminish. Us? Our stomachs are doing the thinking, so all we care about is finding a suitable looking place where we can keep an eye on the bikes while we refuel.

We pass a likely looking restaurant on the opposite side of the street, but decide to cruise through the town checking out the other options available.

As Sod’s Law decrees, the first one that caught our eye is the one we return to; and so we demount and cruise up to the beer garden, which is still not an option, though it seems the weather is taking a turn for the hotter and dryer. So inside it is.

Now, where to park so can have a good view of our steeds, Finkel and Einhorn? Hmm, a couple of touring bikes here that are in a great spot – good for them 😁 And here – a couple of serious touring bikes here that … with a trailer for a toddler? Ha! they look like … No! they are!

Just over 24 hours after saying farewell until who-knows-next-time? we end up in the same town, about to eat in the same restaurant as Michal and Zuza!!! Small world, ain’t it. As we gape into a window to see if there are free seats with a view of the street (and our bikes), we catch Zuza’s eye inside. She cracks up with laughter and surprise at our paths crossing again so soon.

They exit as we’re preparing to enter, and we meet as old friends; exchanging stories of where our travels had taken us since the previous day: us overnight in an orchard/allotment, them on a football pitch and therefore with access to a shower (that’s experience for you 😉).

With parking spaces occupied, we entered the restaurant, not hoping for too much – joking sardonically about opting for a tasty dish of potatoes and breaded mushrooms. As is the case almost everywhere, restaurants outside of the more built up areas clearly don’t anticipate having to cater for non-meat-eaters. Despite being only a short time in Czechia, our fare when out and about thus far had consisted, yes, of a combination of potatoes and mushrooms; prepared in different ways and always tasty, but the fact that this combination had already become an in-joke tells you, or us, all you need to know.

But variety beckoned: we opted for a Caesar Salad, with goat’s cheese instead of chicken, a side order of fried potatoes, and two half litres of Czechia’s cola-type drink, ‘Kofola!’, a delicious sugary elixir 😃 Very pleasingly rapidly, our food arrived. Caesar Salad: Lettuce? Check! Goat’s cheese? Check! Pita Bread? Check! Copious amounts of lettuce and the cheese – and that was that: not the most colourful dish I’ve ever come across. If it went to see a doctor, I think a diagnosis of anaemia would be generous.

Still, we ate it as ravenously as we consume anything containing energy or fat these days, chasing it down with two fine espressos each, before heading forwards until time for more food and rest.

Wrapped up more warmly following my impromptu striptease on the peak before the village, Sod’s Law invoked itself once again today and ordered the weather to revert to Central European mid-Summer type: dry and hot hot hot.

So, time to peel them layers off … in the Town Square/Main Thoroughfare this time. If I had the build for it, a passerby may think that I’m auditioning for a part in a Czech male strip troupe; as it is, I’m not sure where this body would go down well; though with its interesting tan patterns obtained by certain patches of skin being exposed to various levels of scorching sunlight over an entire’s day riding, I might get a part in that new film they’re not making about human jigsaw puzzles. I had wondered why someone started writing an anagram of ‘ronom’ on my arm as I dozed outside a greengrocer’s earlier. Now I know.

And with a number of maps procured from the local tourist information place detailing the numerous cycle paths and routes in the region – Czechia really is geared towards cyclists in a great way, we proceed to make our way along a beautiful path running parallel to a river, then a canal, towards Stare Mesto, literally ‘Old Town’. Is it the only old town in Czechia? I doubt it, so what gives it the honour of being able to dub itself the old town? Who knows?

But there is one more tale to tell before we actually leave this lovely little town: this day’s turning into a mini-meandering Don Quixote. As the kilometres and time between here and our previous lives increase, we discover, as we figured we would, that assumptions we made in our stationary lives regarding this journey no longer, or don’t, hold true once you are on the road; or that things you thought you’d care about are no longer that important at all, really. Most of the time it’s you yourself that has this revelation; on this occasion it was a piece of equipment that communicated this to me, in the only manner it knew how.

Following the heavy rains of the morning and early afternoon, the odometer was giving off some erratic readings all of a sudden, I noticed. Apparently, we hit a peak speed at some point today of 124.63km/h! Not bad: only a slight increase on the 51-point-something of earlier. And standing here, in the Town Square, with the device in my hand, I see we are travelling at 9.6, no! 34.2, no! 49.7, no! … blah blah blah. Oh, and we’re covering distance, too 😲

The odometer is fucked.

I now have an expensive watch and thermometer attached to my handlebars. Still, that’s one more disconnect from the assumptions of the past to allow us to focus on the here and now of the journey; and not what it means in numbers, though I did, and do, find them interesting and quite often useful: in making sure we’re not overdoing it, for example. But now, I guess, we’ll have to just listen to our bodies even more, regarding not only the direction we go, but also for how long, too. So, kind of good: the journey itself rather than expectation is taking over.

And the disconnects to things we take for granted in our stationary lives, which led to me feeling a little unmoored by the day’s end, continued. As we entered the Town of Old, in the now searing heat, we sought accommodation in a B+B pointed out to us by a kindly lady. Arriving late in the afternoon, on the second day of a national holiday, which tends to make for a long weekend for many Czechs, seeking accommodation on the spur of the moment is a little optimistic: attempt #1 – No; attempt #2 – NO; attempt #3 – NO! “Shall we just get something to eat, and camp for the night?”

“Cool.”

“This place looks OK. Let’s hang the tent out on the bikes to dry, then I’ll just check to see if they accept cards.”

Nope!

So, with empty stomachs, tired legs and tired heads, we lacked all the things we needed to revive and sustain them; things that we had taken for granted just seven days previously.

It was a stark moment on top of some other minor moments that amounted to a day of some significance.

As the tent, now rapidly completely dry under this blistering sunlight, was returned to its pack, Agnieszka went to search for a store that would accept cards to allow us to acquire vital fuel for our bodies and souls.

After one of those long short moments that we have all felt in moments of dramatic uncertainty, she returned carrying bags containing: bread, cheese, butter, nectarines, apples and grapes. And, did I miss anything?

Oh, yes, beer 😁 There’s a reason we are together.

And so we stored our precious cargo in the spaces we had available and sought out a suitable place to pitch our tent and make home for the night.

Just as we had on the previous evenings.

Yet somehow different.

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!