To Slovakia!–nothing not to like

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It has been a long time coming, our return to Slovakia.  We grazed the border of Slovakia on several occasions last summer.  Once, en route to meet Przemek for the first time, we rode through Slovakia for part of a day.  Unwilling to participate in yet another currency, we starved ourselves for the afternoon and raced into Poland to begin our ride on the red trails of southern Poland (Note: they use Euros in Slovakia, we started the day with Czech kroner and ended with Polish zloty).  On another occasion, we detoured from the red trails in Poland to spend a few days writing for Bunyan Velo,  We crossed the border a few times in two days, curious about the pace of life in Slovakia.  Poland is a dreamy place, as long as you are in the woods.  On the roads and in town, the energy is high.  Slovakia, like Czech, is relaxed and kind.  We liked it, but the trails, and Przemek, were in Poland.

The country is crossed with mountains, and farms, and relatively few people.  The beer, as in Czech, is cheap.  The mountains, as we are coming to find, are laced with roads and trails, accessible by a plethora of hiking and cycling routes.  These things are always easier to discover in country.  The women– I promise I won’t let this become a place to review the women of the world– have long legs and have obviously spent the summer outdoors doing things they enjoy.  Seriously, Lael agrees, and we marvel at the discovery of Slovakian women– they are beautiful and healthy.  It’s like they’ve never outgrown the age of 12.  We find this to be an interesting social and cultural marker.  The men?  Well, they mostly look like sunburnt farmers.

When crafting a plan for this summer while back in Alaska, the far eastern part of Europe invited us once again.  I want to spend more time in Ukraine, and the other half of the Carpathian Mountain chain in Romania.  Lael wants to learn some Romanian, and bulk up her Ukrainian vocabulary.  We both want to ride bikes in the countryside and mountains in places that are habitable and arable, but not yet overcome by the hypermodern life we know.  Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania.  Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania.  That’s the plan for now, at least as much of a plan as there will ever be.  Beyond that?  Greece and Macedonia?  Spain and Corsica and Morocco?  There are many opportunities further afield, but we’ve really just begun.  Its not fair to this end of the trip to focus on that end of the trip.  We’re focusing on this side of Slovakia for now, trying not to look too far forward.

We took advantage of the Condor Airlines flight over the pole, which runs nonstop all summer from Anchorage to Frankfurt for about $500.  To hone our eastern aspect, we chose a connecting flight to Vienna, which is only 40 miles from Slovakia.  While I am reading maps, Lael is honing her Euro style.

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Look who met us at the airport in Vienna– Przemek!  He came bearing gifts for Lael’s birthday, including homemade currant liqueur and a small loaf of his mother’s bread.  I’m not supposed to tell, but he also made the three hour drive to the airport the day before.  Upon returning home, deflated, he realized that we had departed on the 22nd, but would not arrive until the 23rd.  Thanks for coming back a second time.

We may have the chance to spend a few more weeks with him later this summer.  Our tentative plan is to rendezvous in Romania in late August or early September.  He’s currently living in Slovenia for work.  He still does a very good impression of a Polish man, in English, for our benefit.

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We’d planned a Warmshowers.org host in Vienna, although a delayed arrival and the time it took to reassemble our bikes meant it would be too late to ride into the city.  Neither of us had much interest in the big city, for now.  Rather, we pedaled towards Slovakia.  Head east!

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We connect to a bike path adjacent to the road, only a short distance from the airport.  We ride through several small towns, over the autobahn, and onto a signed hiking route on a small dirt road.  This leads to a dirt track along the Danube River, dotted with rustic fishing cabins.  We slept well on our first night, on a dirt road, alongside a river, only three miles from the airport.  Even the passing “dinner and dance” barges from Vienna didn’t bother us.

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Awake early, without a plan, we pedal.  Several hours later, barely 7:30, we realize we must have been up before 5AM.  This never happens, although we appreciate the extra hours.

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What time is it?

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Immediately, our eastward route intersects the EuroVelo6 route, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea; the local St. James Way, which eventually leads to the local Camino de Santiago route in Spain; and a plethora of local walking and cycling routes along the Donau (Danube).

Signposts are stacked with signs and maps covered in colored routes.  The pathways are in constant use by a steady stream of riders, runners, rollerbladers, and walkers.  Many cycling routes incorporate graded gravel farm roads or unpaved cycling paths.  Most routes utilize existing facilities.  Creating bikeable routes is sometimes as easy as providing maps and signage.  Rest stops like this one are also welcomed, which include drinking water, a bike rack, a detailed map, a covered picnic area, wooden reclining chairs, and some green space.  These are luxuries to a cyclist on a long ride.

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The red and white signage indicates a hiking route.  The shell signifies the way of St. James, whose terminus is in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  The most prominent portion of the route is in Spain, although routes and signage begin much further afield.

907 must be the hiking route number.  We’re not in (907)Alaska anymore.

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A short way down the river, Bratislava comes into view.  The capital city of Slovakia borders both Austria and Hungary.  Of the three countries we choose Slovakia, although the long-distance “blue trail” in Hungary is enticing. It claims to be the oldest long-distance footpath in Europe (c. 1938), and comprises part of the modern E4 route across Europe.

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We find easy entrance into the city on paved trails.  Some public maps suggest an off-pavement exit.

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Large Soviet housing projects are common in these eastern cities.

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Europe is full of signed and mapped routes for walking and cycling.  Many walking paths are great fun to ride.  Some cycling routes include mellow dirt tracks, although most prefer pavement.  Dirt routes begins immediately outside the city, climbing into the Malé Karpaty mountains.

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The park includes many features benefitting activity and community.  The greater area includes routes for miles, trending northward through the mountains.

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Dirt, right out of the city.

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The red and white is a walking route, the colored “C” routes are cycling routes.  They diverge, and converge, in this case.

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Along the way, we find dozens of picnic tables, gazebos, and grassy areas.

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And plenty of signage.  Lots of signage.

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Segments of genuine singletrack are exciting, through managed forests dominated by beech trees.

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Some of our route convenes with the race route of an upcoming series.

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Even some hike a bike on day one.  Not bad, considering we don’t have a plan.

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22-32.  This one gets a lot of use.

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Further from the city, the moutnains grow taller and all the cycling routes descend into the valley.  We continue for a time on walking routes, with some pushing.

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Descending from the mountains, we direct ourselves north and east.  A near goal is to get to Ukraine, although there is plenty of riding in Slovakia to keep us busy for years.  We’ll sample some along the way, including some of the 1000 Miles Adventure Route, which crosses Czech and Slovakia.

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Fruit falls onto the roadways.  Camping is abundant.  Nothing not to like.

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Swimming.  Once a day keeps the stink away.  Public laundromats don’t exist where we’re going.

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More cycling and walking routes in the mountains.  So many options.

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The beech forests!–generouslly spaced trees, filtered sunlight, singletrack.

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Dobra Voda.

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Descend to Dobra Voda.  Ascend from Dobra Voda, through a cemetery.

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To a castle.  We didn’t expect a castle at the top of this hill.  Not that this is the fist castle we’ve seen in this corner of Slovakia.  There are dozens.

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A short distance away, we make camp at the top of the mountain, along the red trail.  Red trails are most often major routes, which cover longer distances.

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From the top, we descend through more scenic beech forests to town.  Slovakia is a new favorite.  Nothing not to like.

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The E8 walking trail, like the E4 and the E2, crosses the European continent from Ireland to Turkey.

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This map locates all the castles, in reference to cycling routes.

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Searching for chain lube, we go looking for small town bikes shops.  It seems WD-40 in spray cans is preferred.

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We choose pavement for a few days to make some distance north, and east.  When possible, we interject mellow dirt routes chosen from local signage.  A forecast for heavy rain will keep us off the dirt for a few days.  Much of the dirt riding ahead of us promises to be steep, as we enter higher mountains.  Lael also has a nagging ankle injury that likes to ride a bike, but not to push bikes up steep grades.

Postcard Slovakia: Soviet housing, sunflowers, rolling hills, and blue skies.

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Tidy houses, forested hills, small farm plots, and fruit trees.

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Swim in a cold stream, a castle on the hill.

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Slovakians love to ride.  There are often families and groups of riders on the weekends.  Through the week, people commute to work and ride to the store to get what they need.  Most often, older men and women ride vintage step-through frames with 24×1 3/8″ tires and rider bars, perfectly practical for this kind of riding.

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Proper bike shops are infrequent, although bikes from the past several decades are still riding alongside newer bikes.  It is not uncommon to see a 30 year old bike with patina and signs of use, still exhibiting smooth operation.  This is what happens when you value the things you have, and take care of them.  The values of our grandparents are still alive here.

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Aside from maps and signs by the roadside, detailed guidebooks and “Active” maps for hiking and cycling are available from local bookstores and supermarkets.  This book details cyclings routes around Slovakia, concentrated in the southwest corner, nearby much of the country’s population.  This book includes paved and unpaved routes, and many routes which combine the two.

Check our this digital resource for all the walking routes in Slovakia.  Cycling routes are all here.  An Android App called Hiking Map Slovakia is also useful, and is currently installed on Lael’s Nexus tablet.

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Look for these maps as well, in country or online.

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Cycling signposts also include directions to local attractions such as castles, swimming pools, and this BIKEPARK.  Mountain biking is increasingly popular here.

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Cycling routes are surprising in Slovakia, ranging from busy two-lane roads to this levee singletrack.  A mountain bike makes a versatile touring bike in this county.

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As anywhere, it ensures the right tool to avoid busy roadways.

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Much like in Czech, beer is everpresent.  When we order kava at 7AM, it is not uncommon to see a table of townspeople talking over tall glasses of beer.  At about 4%, a beer or two in the morning is like a strong cup of coffee with sugar, right?

Hops and wheat, from which beer is made.  Slovakian lowlands are filled with fruits, vegetables, and grains.

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We’ve had such good luck finding campsites all over Europe.  As a rule, as night falls, find a small road and ride uphill.  Ride past the last house, ride onto dirt, and soon, the place will appear.  In this case, as we ascended a dirt road we passed several mountain bikers coming down, including several young boys with full face helmets.  We ascended to find an historic logging railbed.  We camped alongside a picnic table in the woods several kilometers from the nearest town, 500ft down in the valley.  Nothing not to like about the touring life in Slovakia.

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The best part is that every morning, sooner or later, we descend to a town.  A period of rest each day, including kava and pivo and ubiquitous free WiFi, encourages enough energy to pull out the maps and plan another day’s ride up and over something.  Our immediate goal is to explore some of the 1000 Miles Adventure route, which is an adventure race route organized by Czech racer Jan Kopka from the border of Germany and Czech to the other edge of Slovakia, on the border of Ukraine.  The mixed terrain route promises some significant challenges, but also a largely pedalable route across the country.  Incidentally, I met Jan this winter before the Iditarod Trail Invitational.  He and Greg came over from Speedway to buy all of our fatbike tubes at the shop.  If Lael’s ankle cooperates and the weather is not too wet, we’ll follow as much of this route as we want across the country.  Soon enough, some time in Ukraine is also a priority.  And Przemek will be waiting at the Romanian border in another month or so.

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We’re trying not to make plans.  Mostly, were trying to do a lot of this, if we can find it.

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30 thoughts on “To Slovakia!–nothing not to like

  1. Thanks so much for this very informative post. You are doing a great job of widening our horizons and and giving us just the right sort of itchy feet! Have a super summer and please keep posting. :-)

  2. Sidi’s and no Carridice bag, so modern!
    Eagerly following your latest adventures, looks like you’re off to a great start!

    • And carbon rims and handlebars, USB powered devices, and tubeless tires. Still sleeping under the stars, getting wet feet, and cooking on a beer can stove. Lael says, “might as well do it right”. If Clarks made a Desert Chukka for SPDs, we might have a winning combo. Until then, she loves the SIDIs.

  3. Nick,

    My name is Patrick, I live in Missoula but met you in Silver City, New Mexico. While following your blog all winter, I have become so excited with anticipation for your next adventure. So far, it has exceeded my expectations and I assume you have many amazing miles ahead of you. Your blog consistently reminds me of the important things in life, thanks.

    • Patrick, Thanks for the comment. I remember your crew from the Bike House in Silver City. Friends with Alison as well, right? Sad to hear about your friend in Florida.

      Hope to run into you again someday. Missoula is always on my list.

    • Nick, We are half-way across Slovakia, on our way to the land of the horse and cart, and aging Dacia and Lada cars. Hi to all back in Anchorage, and the crew at Paramount.

  4. I’ve followed your blog for quite awhile and I’m wondering your method for getting your bikes overseas. Do you check your bikes with the airlines or do you ship your bikes ahead of time to a location? Could you share your preferred airlines/shippers/method? Thanks, DD

    • We always fly with the bikes, and purchase our ticket with the cost of the bike in mind. For domestic flights, Frontier and SW offer bikes for free, Alaska is $75, and others ca be reasonable. Some charge up to $200, so look out. Some international flights also allow bikes for free or cheap. Russian Aeroflot was free, while AerLingus and IcelandAir are both about $50.

  5. Boom!
    Przemek is a legend! Despite the excessive car use.. I hope at least some of the presents were gold-coloured…
    Romania & the Carpathians are sublime, they form a core wondrous memory from my childhood and I long to traverse them properly.
    I hope you enjoy the tuica (prune firewater) and palinca (mixed fruits viciousness) a lot. There’s also some funky (acquired-taste) herb liqueurs too. Not quite as good as Krupnik or Chartreuse, although that because those are more my heritage…
    I like the back of Lael’s helmet and it’s impressive faded patina! But sad to see the relegation of the desert boots. They are my standard pedalwear!
    Wow those signs are better than the ones in Switzerland! And reclining chairs, I have never seen such amenities along a bike route, although I’m half impressed and half-really appropriate?
    Let me know how the Light Bicycle rim is doing tubeless – I fancy a pair for my incoming Singular Rooster.
    A few close ups of the fancy luggage wouldn’t go amiss either ;)
    Happy Riding

    • I didn’t realize the Rooster was really happening. I’d seen it a few months ago in proto-form. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the LB rims. Fro my purposes, I’m glad to have chosen a Derby rim for the rear and the LB up front. Both built up about the same, mostly like any other wheel. It is hard to measure ERD by conventional means, so best to just use the specs from the manufacturer. LB supplied exact dimensions of the rim. While the Derby appears to have more advanced tubeless features (included a slight hump between the bead shelf and the center channel), I think both rims are very good tubeless rims. The LB rim may even be a slightly tighter fit than the Debry, although both are fine with a strip of Stan’s tape and Schwalbe TLR Hans Dampf tires. The Derby actually seats at very low pressures (less than 20psi?), which suggests a slightly smaller 622mm bead-shelf dimension. The LB also seats at average pressure, with a pop. As both recommend, best not to exceed about 40psi.

      When the SPD compatible Desert Chukkas are available, we’ll have a real winner. Unfortunately, Lael won’t be able to wear shoes two sizes too big if she’s clipped in.

      No gold from Przemek, just homemade bread and homestyle liqueur. Still a winner, that guy. He might be bringing a friend along when he meets in in a few weeks. We’re excited to meet her. We may be a band of four through Romania.

      I’ll look out for tuica and palinca. It’s all pivo and slivovice for now. Actually, Slovakian wine is quite good as well. Much better than the “emergent” Czech wines.

      Fancy luggage discussions soon.

      • Hope all still goes well. That is some lovely lovely mud. Very jealous.
        Glad to hear of your satisfaction with LB. I have been sending multiple e-mails to them asking for a 50mm rim (and a 80mm or so fatbike rim too, not that I have the money for one as I’m saving for a Rohloff for the Rooster) and they’ve answered!! It’s on the cards and it’ll be ready soon. BOOM! Goodbye Velocity P35s. Dare I even get 3 for a singlespeed wheel too…
        I pleaded for 450-475g and as tubeless ready as they could possibly make them.

        Those plums are ready weeks before our Welsh border ones are too!

        • I was very happy with customer service at LB. The process was direct, and transparent. Shipping was as expected. The rims look great out of the box and were nice to build, although building a carbon rim has a few quirks. So far so good in the wild.

  6. Nick -

    By definition, I guess I am a GEN X’er. It seems for most of us the “dream” was college, a good job, marriage, kids, mortgage, and a car(s). Thank you for following your dreams and allowing us to follow along and live vicariously through your journeys. I always look forward to your posts.

    Gary

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