Some time in Poland

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Leaving Przemek and his Pugsley in the high country, Lael and I spend a few days writing and planning.  First, the next issue of Bunyan Velo is to be released in the upcoming month, and some time near a power outlet and wireless internet is in order to record some ideas that have been gestating all summer.  Second, my parents and my brother will soon arrive in Ukraine, where we will meet them to make a brief cultural tour around the country.  Our prime focus will be to visit the two villages where each my maternal grandparents were born nearly 95 years ago.  Finally, after a few more days on the trail without us, Przemek’s yellow Pugsley makes a quick trip home to return to the mountains as a hardtail 29er, where we will rejoin him for a few days of riding.  This leaves us with a week to go nowhere and anywhere.  We direct ourselves with our sense for great campsites, by our internal clinometers (up, always up); we shoot for small towns and trails in Poland and Slovakia, guided by an occasional glance at Google or a public map; and we do what (cycle)tourists might have always expected of their summer vacation– we spend some time.

Without a map or trail to follow, some real (micro)adventuring is in order.  The day is spent indoors writing; we mainly seek a campsite for the night, so we ride up.  Past a ski lift, one of hundreds that line the local hillsides, past ripening fruit and farms, to the low ridge that composes the border between Poland and Slovakia.

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Either side of this monument reads S and P, for Slovakia and Poland.  We have been following similar markers since the Czech/Poland border.

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This will do for a campsite.  Lael prepares a fungal watercraft dubbed the ‘Yankee Doodle’ to float down the stream.  This is how we spend at least some of our time.

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The following evening, following thundershowers and some writing, we go searching for a campsite.  We ride into some nearby forested lowlands, presented as a narrow green swathe on the map.  We enter via farm roads from the pavement, without a map or guide of any kind.  After a half an hour of winding routes, a small stream crossing, and a few dead-ends, we cross a small shelter perfect for a rainy night.

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No Polish shelter is complete without a shot glass.

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Lael was hiding something in her framebag to taste.  Sweet, but herbal.

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Public maps serve us well in many regions.  We habitually stop to see what kind of new information we can gain.  Much of this information could easily be learned from a detailed map or gps file, although the experience of piecing things together is interesting, if not always the most efficient method.  I’ve long considered a GPS on board the bike, although a cumbersome interface is uninviting.  And, I don’t already own an iPhone.  We use Lael’s Google Nexus 7 tablet to navigate some cities, or to find camping, although it is impractically large for full time use.  Solutions?

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The following day leads us toward the Tatra, a succinct range of the highest peaks in the Carpathian Mountains, straddling the Slovakian/Polish border.  Near or far, these mountains are stunning.  The peaks are clear — we compare to the Tetons.

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While looking for a market to pick up some food for dinner, we pass this red trail.  The church is alive with the sounds of mass.  Poland is a strongly Catholic country, and papal hiking routes in honor of John Paul II are ubiquitous in this part of the country.  A public map shows that the red route connects to Zakopane, 15km away.  Zakopane is a major international tourist destination, and a good place to replace our dying cookpot, we think.  It will also afford closer inspection of the mountains.

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Summer in Poland ends the same way as in Alaska.

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We settle on this hillside facing the High Tatra for the evening.  Not the flattest ground, but some of the best scenery of the trip.

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This local red route, unlike some of the sections in the high country, proves to be perfectly rideable with only a few steep pitches.  With my new 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf tire, climbing incredibly steep pitches has become a part-time hobby.

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Over the last hill to Zakopane.

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We meet hordes of tourists.  Mostly, it is an innocuous crowded mountain town where local smoked cheese is sold in incredible numbers.  There may be more than 100 individual vendors in town with displays such as this.  Low-moisture smoked cheese makes for great bikepacking fuel, even in the heat.  About 3 zloty to the dollar, so prices are quite good.

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Sliwki is also in season, although most country people probably already have a glut of plums at home.  Fruit trees are found everywhere in Poland.

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Giant sunflowers and dill perfume Polish markets, and roadsides.

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The usual collage of tourists, pamiatki, and high-end retail merge in Zakopane.

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Lucky for me, Lael is cheap and settles for a 1 zloty strand of dyed wooden beads, and some colored leather laces that will eventually replace the broken laces on her shoes.  Between her weathered Clark’s boots and new adornments, she has developed an eclectic mountain aesthetic.  Bulging calves round out the look.

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We also spent some time looking for another skirt– something a little more like this.  Maybe in Ukraine.

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The main function of our trip to Zakopane was to find a new cookpot, which had recently revolted by souring a meal with the taste of aluminum.  Once coated with a hard anodized finish, the pot is now barely holding together.  We browsed dozens of high-end hiking shops stocked with footwear and outerwear, but little camping equipment.  Looking for a 1L stainless steel cookpot…

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Eventually, we find what we are looking for in a large cookset at InterSport, a large European sporting goods chain.  For about $40, we poach the smallest pot from a nice looking set of large, but packable kitchenware.  Unsure of what to do with the remains, we leave the box and its contents outside the store.  Hopefully some hungry backpacker will discover the prize.

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Quickly, to meet Przemek early the next morning at a distant train station, we exit Zakopane with fresh legs and lunch in our bags.  We will not have anything to do with this.

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But if we have to, we will do this.  Back through the countryside to rejoin Przemek.

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16 thoughts on “Some time in Poland

  1. As always, it looks like you’ve found beautiful places to ride. Your photos and prose really transport me to an imagined version of your experiences, colored with my own from years ago. I miss the overwhelming scent of fresh dill in former Soviet-bloc markets during summer. Fresh roadside fruit, too. Cheese was not common in Kyrgyzstan, unfortunately. Looking forward to your next Bunyon Velo article. Happy travels, and hello from all of us in Denver.

      • Jace, I will send along a larger image file. Thankfully, I averted a crisis this morning when my Mac HD crashed. I copied the drive to a new external HD and reinstalled OS X. Learned a few things in the process; including a reminder to back-up everything twice.

  2. Looks like some beautiful country. That smoked cheese has me intrigued as well. I’m curious, are you primarily shooting with the 20mm f1.7 lens?

    • James, I am using the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 most of the time, although I frequently feel the draw of something with a little more range, both near and far. Since Lael is now using my old camera (Olympus E-PM1 with 14-42mm kit lens), I can swap lenses as needed. Unfortunately, I’ve become accustomed to the improved image quality of the Panasonic lens, so will be searching for a quality zoom lens in the future. I think I miss a full wide-angle picture the most when using the 20mm, although in certain situations I don’t feel close enough to my subject, especially when riding with others. I think a quality zoom, even like the Olympus 12-50mm, could be the answer. I’ll look into it more down the road, when I am working and swimming in cash.

      Overall, I love the simplicity of a fixed lens.

  3. Hey Nick and Lael, how you guys finding the Nexus7? Identifying what gear I can jettison right now before starting on the Great Divide, laptop is high on the list of unecessarily heavy and not-often-used-enough gear. Love the blogs!

    • In short, we love the Nexus 7. The interface is great, competitive with an Apple device. At $200, it’s a bargain.

      From looking at the blog, I’d hate to suggest anything that would detract from the quality of your photos, or the detail of your writing. I do not have any experience using the tablet full-time, but I expect it would be a little cumbersome if you expect to handle a lot of hi-res photos. Writing on the tablet would be fine, as I’ve spent plenty of time tapping on such devices.

      I started this blog from an iPod touch a few years ago, and happily did everything from the well-connected interface, including lo-res photography, photo editing, offline writing, and uploading to the blog. In addition, the iPod connected me with warmshowers, e-mail, a Spot connect device, etc. Those were good times. I eventually added a real camera to my kit, which necessitated a real computer. Technically, a tablet can accomplish most of the tasks of a laptop: a micro-USB to USB OTG cable allows you to connect a USB SD card reader, Nexus Media Importer handles the files, and a variety of programs allow basic editing. The WordPress app for Android is useable. As I see it, aside from a cumbersome workflow, storage is the biggest challenge. These devices don’t seem to make external storage very easy, if at all possible. This may change in the future. Until then, I’ll stick with the MacBook Air.

      I know at least one person who is happily running a small point and shoot camera through a Nexus 7, here:

      I also recall that Glenn Charles brought an iPad on his Alaska trip this past winter, and disliked the cumbersome workflow, here:

      If you are shooting a small pocketable camera, or an iPhone, ditch the computer. If you want to commit more energy to sharing words and images, maybe stick with it. From the sounds of it, you enjoy riding more than computing. But then, other than the weight of the computer, are you also able to refresh your system by replacing rack and panniers with a lightweight seat bag, or something similar. If not, maybe the bulk weight of the laptop isn’t that significant– legs can always grow stronger.

      Be curious to know what you decide. Enjoy the Divide, it is one of my favorites!


      • Awesome, thanks for the comments. On the verge of ordering one- another plus for me is that having the N7 means that all my devices except camera use the same cord for charging. Only using a small point and shoot and smartphone for cameras right now. Plus, easy enough to change back to the laptop while still in the States if it doesn’t work out. For exporting excess pics, could always go to an internet cafe with an external SD card reader and transfer old pics to that, right? Looking hardcore into getting rid of panniers, but paranoid about down jacket/sleeping bag getting wet so gotta get over that first. System is always a work in progress. Pics of your systems are great starting points to get an idea of how to pack gear.

      • I recommend the Sea-to-Summit eVent Compression drybag if you are looking for waterproof and compact– we both use them for our down goods. The seam tape is finally pulling away at the seams on Lael’s bag (really, a minimal concern, and not a major source of water penetration), but mostly I consider them to be extremely durable. I don’t think you have to accept wet down to ditch the panniers. About $30 for the drybag, and a few more for some nylon straps.

        Since dealing with a tempermental MacBook in recent weeks, I have come to appreciate the Nexus 7 even more. Just a thought, but if you plan to travel to Europe or anywhere where public wifi is uncommon due to the proliferation of private data networks, it would be nice to upgrade to the Nexus 7 model that will accept a SIM card. Ours doesn’t– no big deal– but it could have been useful in some western European countries.

        Before reaching the next big(ger) town, list the panniers on Craigslist. It will buy some new soft luggage, or a lot of beer.

  4. Captain Nicholas: I wanted to let you know that I am watching, if not commenting. I have recently rejoined the workaday world and it has, to a certain extent, dulled my wit and blunted my purpose. I am, however, alive and well and enjoying your euro-journeys vicariously. As always, the tech-rap part of your posts (usually in comments) is potent and vital and informative. Otherwise, keep up the good work and enjoy your summer. It will end soon (a bad habit that summer has) and while swimming in money is fun enough, it is ultimately the absence of material things that is most rewarding. Experiences are the onliest thing and you are racking up a veritable trophy room of those, all recorded here at Gypsy By Trade. Thanks for that.


    • TJ,

      Summer does have one bad habit, in which it always seems to be waning.

      I can’t believe that you are working! I suppose this means TPC will become another self-aggrandizing personal blog, full of hi-res digital photos of fatbikes and fully-equipped bikepacking rigs like the rest of us. As always, thanks for your words. I don’t think that employment has yet interfered with your wit.


  5. Just spent the last 45 min getting Coen caught up to speed on your Poland to Ukraine adventures. He had tons of questions, and especially appreciates your pictures of cows and trains.
    Excited to hear you two might wander back up here this winter, would love to share a meal, a ride and stories with you guys.
    Enjoy the Ukraine and time with your family.

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