Red trails in Poland (to Ukraine)

NicholasCarman1 22

My primary purpose, our purpose, when traveling by bike is to make a life on the road– to spend time, discover, and to enjoy ourselves in each place that we visit.  The main function of choosing to ride in Europe was to discover the network of walking trails found across the continent.  We arrived, asking, “Do the trails really exist?  Are they legal, and rideable?  Are there sufficient places to camp?  Are they fun?”.  The answers to all of these questions have been overwhelmingly positive.  Finally, we arrived in Amsterdam with the intention to eventually visit Ukraine.  Growing up in a thriving east coast Ukrainian community has left me wanting to see this place for myself.  At the time of writing, I am already in Ukraine.  This is how we got there.

Przemek plans to return by train.  We have spent several days riding together recently, before parting ways.  I had some business to tend to.  Przemek continued riding and pushing over southern Poland’s higher mountains. After the first week of his tour, he made a quick trip home to re-evaluate his bicycle and luggage.  He left on a Surly Pugsley with 26×4.0″ Knard tires.  He returns with something different.

NicholasCarman1 12

NicholasCarman1 85

Przemek and I first met through the internet, as we discovered that we were building the exact same 29″ wheels for a Surly Pugsley within weeks of each other.  We swapped ideas from across the globe.  Now, for a few days, we ride and camp together, and marvel at how amazing the internet can be.  His route is composed of other riders’ trials and errors in these same mountains, shared via blogs and forums.  I hope that these words and images will inspire others to ride in these mountains.  The internet is an amazing place.

We meet in Chabowka at 6AM.  By 8, we are riding uphill on a red walking trail.  I am beginning to love these red trails in Poland, which signify scenic, long-distance walking routes.  They can be heartbreakingly difficult, but they can be supremely rideable for great distances as well.  Interspersed with mountain huts (like hostels), the experience is as cultural as it is bike-centric.

NicholasCarman1 13

NicholasCarman1 14

NicholasCarman1 15

NicholasCarman1 17

NicholasCarman1 18

Hiking signs indicate the time (usually not the distance) to the nearest resource or junction.  Above, we rest about 45min from the hut at the top.  Below, singletrack 5 minutes from the top.

NicholasCarman1 19

NicholasCarman1 20

This is one of the larger mountain huts we have seen, originally constructed in 1924.  All trails lead to cold beer and hot food around here.  Homestyle dishes are served inside, and basic rooms are available.  The Polish hiking organization PTTK is responsible for all the trails, signage, and huts.  Members receive additional benefits, although all the facilities are inclusive of non-members and visitors.

NicholasCarman1 23

Inside, the building is a treasure of old maps and photographs.  Pope John Paul II was an avid hiker in his youth, and once walked many of these trails.  Newer papal routes are now marked in his honor.  Our red route is shown below on the ridge.

NicholasCarman1 24

Below, our route is not shown, but it traverses the area between Rabka on the left, and Rytro on the right.  In two days, riding at a mellow pace, we encounter only one paved road crossing.  We top out near 1300m, or about 4000ft.

NicholasCarman1 27

NicholasCarman1 29

At the top of the mountain, this is a great place to wait out some weather.  Looking out the front door, Lael keeps an eye on the High Tatra.

NicholasCarman1 34

Inside, a plate of potatoes and cold beer is only a few dollars.  Kefir, soup, warm beer cocktails, and other Polish comfort foods are available.

NicholasCarman1 32

As the skies clear, we embark into the cool evening air– a spectacular time to ride.

NicholasCarman1 35

We descend, and briefly ascend back to the next minor peak.  From there, it is a long way down.

NicholasCarman1 37

NicholasCarman1 38

NicholasCarman1 39

Most of the descent is rideable.  As Lael and I incorporate more trail riding into our touring repertoire, I keep my eyes on more capable bikes.  I am considering something with a more descent-specific geometry, such as a Surly Krampus or a Kona Honzo, without giving up the positive climbing features of a hardtail.  I’m also thinking a full-suspension 29er may be in my future, something like the Salsa Horsethief.  Incidentally, I’m thinking of a full-suspension bike more for its ability to climb chunky stuff– and to maintain traction– than for the high-speed descents.  After a few over-the-handlebar experiences on the Pugsley, I’m a bit chicken when riding downhill.  I value my health greatly.  Sometimes walking wins.

NicholasCarman1 42

Lael, however, rides with her eyes wide open.  She descends with abandon.  Here, she lands in a muddy hillside while trying to ride some off-camber trail composed of clay, post-rainstorm.

NicholasCarman1 41

NicholasCarman1 141

The following morning, we cross the paved road and ride back up, following the red trail and an assortment of bicycle routes.  Przemek’s Pugsley now features a Manitou Tower suspension fork and 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires.  The rear wheel is built with a Velocity Synergy O/C rim, while the symmetrical front wheel uses a Stan’s Flow EX rim.  He is using a SP dynamo hub and Supernova E3 Pro light.

NicholasCarman1 50

Berries by the trail give us reason to stop.  We compose a handful of berries and a small bouquet to celebrate Przemek’s birthday.  This is the first of many gifts, one for each year.

NicholasCarman1 45

NicholasCarman1 48

Passing a small community in the mountains, a group of women congregate the roadside.  A white van appears.  Groceries can be purchased from the van; prices are competitive with the small stores in the valley.  What a convenience and a luxury for us to buy fruit, milk, and fresh baked goods at 1000m at 9AM.

NicholasCarman1 43

NicholasCarman1 44

We continue along the ridge to the next peak, above 1200ft.  Here we find a small shelter offering food, as well as tents for the evening.

NicholasCarman1 72

The red trail traverses the green forested section, having crossed the road just off the left side of the map.

NicholasCarman1 73

Where are we?  Usually, everyone else has made it obvious on the map.  Thousands of fingers have grazed this signboard.

NicholasCarman1 74

While Luban is only a single shack with a wood-fired stove to prepare simple meals, wifi is advertised.  Tents are offered for the night, and a spring provides fresh water nearby.  Polish hiking culture is really fun, and inexpensive.

NicholasCarman1 75

NicholasCarman1 76

Naleśniki with mak.

NicholasCarman1 77

We push and sweat to make it up here, yet we meet another rider on a 25 year old ATB that arrives without a drop of sweat.  On top of that, he is collecting rocks, and is slowly filling his pack– an example of Polish grit and enthusiasm.  For all the time we spend optimizing our bikes and our gear, other riders remind us of the simplicity that we pursue.

NicholasCarman1 78

His favorite rock was shaped like the #1.

NicholasCarman1 142

From the top, it is all downhill.  I like how succinct each riding section is around here, requiring relatively little planning, and less than a day of food or water.  One could traverse many of these beskid, the Polish word for a lesser mountain range, with no more than a framebag or small backpack, especially as food and lodging are frequently available in the mountain huts.  As we aren’t rushing to the next supply point, there is plenty of time to explore.

NicholasCarman1 81

NicholasCarman1 80

Dropping into town at dusk, we explore the Dunajec Gorge which forms the border between Poland and Slovakia,  a popular spot where tourists pile into rectangular wooden boats, piloted by traditionally costumed men.  The boats navigate through the shallow water with long poles, and two operators.

NicholasCarman1 86

Thirty-one years old on this day, Przemek is still a kid at heart.

NicholasCarman1 87

NicholasCarman1 88

Nearly dark, we roll up a dirt road out of the gorge to find camping.  We prepare a feast in honor of Przemek’s birthday.  We all wake up with food poisoning.

NicholasCarman1 89

Sixteen hours later, we summon enough energy to roll up our tents and roll back into town.  We are without any surplus energy.  I may never eat buckwheat again.

NicholasCarman1 90

NicholasCarman1 91

Tomato juice, Coca-Cola, and water is on the limited menu today.

NicholasCarman1 92

We push towards the east to find a campsite for the night.  Laughing at ourselves, and our misfortune– there is something hilarious about being violently ill and drained of energy.

NicholasCarman1 93

Przemek’s home and his horse– a disguised 29″-wheeled Surly Pugsley and a Tarptent Double Rainbow.

NicholasCarman1 94

Feeling better the next morning, we find just enough energy to ride uphill.  This is our last day together.

NicholasCarman1 103

NicholasCarman1 104

We discuss bikes and gear, and decide on an approximate bikepacking standard for loading one’s bike.  Throw grams and kgs out the window– the bike must be light enough for the rider to lift it cleanly over the shoulders.  There are many instances where the bike must be carried.  There are many steep uphill grades in the world.  There are many fun descents.

Przemek’s Surly Pugsley with 29″ wheels and suspension fork.  Welsh-made Wildcat framebag and Revelate packs elsewhere– more organized than it looks.

NicholasCarman1 99

Lael’s Raleigh XXIX, originally a single speed model, customized with gears and suspension fork.  Revelate framebag and Viscacha seatpack, Oveja Negra Lunchbox up front.  Low gears, big tires, and her favorite gold-anodized On-One Mary handlebar.

NicholasCarman1 100

My Raleigh XXIX+G with suspension fork, custom wheels and frame attachments for mini-rack and extra bottles.  Porcelain Rocket framebag and handlebar bag, Carradice Camper saddlebag, and Revelate Gas Tank.  29x 2.35″ and 2.4″ tires, tubeless.  Between the three of us and six wheels, there are four Maxxis Ardent tires.  For all around dirt touring, I love the large volume of the 2.4″ Ardent and the durable rubber compound.  For dedicated trail touring, I’m coming to appreciate the 2.35″  Schwalbe Hans Dampf.

NicholasCarman1 101

Przemek and his Pugsley pass the test.

NicholasCarman1 105

A typical Polish descent ends our ride, landing in a small town, and a rustic restaurant serving pyrohy and piwo.

NicholasCarman1 106

NicholasCarman1 113

NicholasCarman1 114

NicholasCarman1 115

NicholasCarman1 117

NicholasCarman1 116

NicholasCarman1 118

Once in the valley, there are myriad discoveries to be made, including the FART store.

NicholasCarman1 119

A local art exhibition, adjacent to the tourist office where I purchase hiking maps for the Ukrainian Karpaty.

NicholasCarman1 121

With phallic paintings of bread sculptures.

NicholasCarman1 120

And familiar scenery.

NicholasCarman1 122

A handsome public square.

NicholasCarman1 125

And jovial Belgians on Dahon folding bikes.

NicholasCarman1 143

Parting ways with Przemek for the last time, we shoot for the train station.  There, we encounter two riders on older mountain bikes with backpacks and camping gear.  They help us navigate the train schedule.

NicholasCarman1 127

NicholasCarman1 128

On board the train, two, three other riders join us.  The bicycle car is typically the last car in sequence, with only a few folding seats along the wall with plenty of open space.  In total, there are six bikes and riders on board this train, all returning from multi-day trips in the mountains.  All but one are on a mountain bike.

NicholasCarman1 129

NicholasCarman1 130

NicholasCarman1 131

NicholasCarman1 133

We ride to the bigger city to connect with another train towards the Ukrainian border.  Much like the German train that deposited us near the Czech border, we will deboard at midnight in search of a campsite.  I load local maps of our destination onto the Nexus 7, with a few good ideas for a campsite about 5km out of town.

NicholasCarman1 134

NicholasCarman1 135

A seatful of stories: Lael is reading in French, riding in Poland, beginning to study some Ukrainian, and interested in everything.  Her change purse is from Mexico, a gift received in Temoris en route to the Copper Canyon.  Her favorite thin wool Surly socks are almost entirely worn through.  We are thinking about riding fatbikes again this winter.

NicholasCarman1 136

11:36 PM.

NicholasCarman1 139

5km to a great campsite up a dirt road out of town.  Only 15km to the Ukrainian border in the morning, and our official exit of the EU.  In two days, we leave our bikes for a period to meet my parents and travel around Ukraine by more conventional means.

NicholasCarman1 140

E-mail me for more details about routes in Poland.  I may compile them here in the future, but I do have a series of GPS files to share.  As well, a series of Compass brand laminated maps is available for each mountain section in southern Poland.  These maps along with on-trail signage would be sufficient to navigate the region.  I can also help put you in contact with more experienced Polish cyclists.

Updates and broken things:

Aside from being very busy in Ukraine, I have also experienced some major hard drive issues with the MacBook Air.  In Kyiv, I purchased an additional external drive to back-up files. and successfully reinstalled OS X onto the MBA.  A day later, the internal HD no longer appeared, and I assume fatal damage to the physical drive.  I am limping along by operating OS X from an external drive, a valuable workaround that I hope will get me through the next month when I return to the US for proper diagnosis and repairs.  Yesterday, Lael and I purchased two cheap plane tickets from Simferapol, Ukraine to NYC, flying through Moscow on the Russian airline Aeroflot.  There is no charge to transport our bicycles if they are packed in a box.  Post NYC plans are in flux, but may include some riding in the west in October/November.  Our leading idea for the winter?  Return to Alaska to ride fatbikes.  I have a lot of unfinished business up there, and the bikes are only getting better.

Next…a tour of Ukraine by more conventional means– overnight Russian sleeper trains, crowded buses, overcrowded hired cars, and some walking.  Ukraine is a rich and colorful place, here is a preview.

NicholasCarman1 7

NicholasCarman1 6

NicholasCarman1 144

NicholasCarman1 145

NicholasCarman1 60

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Red trails in Poland (to Ukraine)

  1. The biking in Poland looks great, as did the rest of your European bike-packing adventures! We can’t wait to read (and see) more about your experiences in Ukraine. 🙂

    Safe travels and hope to see you back in NY. Colin still wants help learning to ride a bike from the “expert”, Nicholas.

    XO- Maria, Andrew & Colin

  2. Beautiful post and love all the photos! We are so very excited to think you may be in Alaska this winter. It’s the one thing that makes me want winter now. We love you and miss you!

  3. Great stuff, Nick. On the subject of new bikes, The Krampus is sweet, but don’t you think the ECR would be a better fit? (I’m sure you’ve seen it, but… http://surlybikes.com/blog/post/ta_dah )

    Also, You know I’m a fan of the Horsethief / Spearfish. If you’re thinking about going in that direction, Salsa is doing some awesome stuff with a split-pivot dropout for next year’s models. http://salsacycles.com/culture/salsa_split_pivot/

    Too many cool bikes out there!

    Brad from Boulder

    • Brad,

      I’ve got my eye on the Horsethief for sure. My main consideration re:Krampus v. ECR is that the Krampus features a higher BB and a more aggressive geometry, which is the direction I am headed. Otherwise, I like the idea of the ECR very much.

      nicholas

  4. Great blog post. Thanks so much. I am American but have done some hiking in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine. Bike packing is next.

  5. Hello
    Funny things about this thing called internet 😉 Looking for some info about trails near my hometown in south Poland and finding it on some US couple traveling to Ukraine 🙂
    Good story and great pictures.
    And I love to meet on a trail people like your Rocky Guy or Dahon Couple. They remind me that 120mm FOX shox’s with kashima coating, XTR drive trains and carbon are not always necessary 😀
    Cheers
    Rafal
    p.s. “FART” in polish means “run of luck ” or “lucky strike” 🙂

    • Wow, that’s great. Some of our best memories of bikepacking in Europe come from Poland. The network of trails is rugged, but often rideable, and the PTTK huts make for an awesome reward at the top of many mountains. That “rock guy” was pretty amazing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s