Across Slovakia, up high

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Surely, we’re having fun.  We’re working hard– not working, technically– but riding lots.  On occasion, we stop in bus stops to avoid the rain.  This time of year, the sun is high, the air is wet, and the afternoons are stormy.  It seems we’ve also encountered a wet week in addition to normal summer storms.  That’s alright, as long as we can outlast thunderstorms by taking cover under bus stops and eating lunch in our t-shirts, or less.  These are the summers of my youth.  We’re eating pickled peppers stuffed with cabbage.  Slovakia is still a dream.

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Since our first foray out of Bratislava following touristic segments of dirt through the Male Karpaty, we’ve pedaled upstream of the Vah River, toward our eventual goal.  Ukraine, and possibly a brief segment of Poland are on our horizon.  A mix of dirt and pavement lead through the wine country of the lower Vah River valley.  Eventually, we leave the lowlands for the mountains.

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Much of the population of Slovakia lives in a few major valleys, although many small towns exist everywhere else.  This is still a country of mountain people.

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Each town features a small food shop, called a potraviny.  This one is a relic of times past.  Most often they look like mini supermarkets, with a limited range of common goods.  Everyone shops every day and buys little, but always buys those little crescent-shaped white bread rolls.  The rolls are always a little dry, and cheap as dirt.  We’ve learned to stack them with olives and tomatoes and cheese and meat.

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Each town features a bar or a restaurant or both, sponsored with signage by one of the major beer manufacturers in the country.  Lael habitually asks for dve kava and jedin chai in the morning– two coffees and one chai.  In reverse– “chai and kava”– she calles this Chai-kav-skij.

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As often as possible, we swim.  Slovakia is laced with cold streams.  The lowland countries nearby, full of people, are different.  Here we find plenty of water.  

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Finally, we’re surprised to find castles everywhere.  It is unlike Poland or Czech or Ukraine.  

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We entered the country with new(-ish) bikes.  Searching for chain lube was more complicated than expected.  I passed the opportunity to buy WD-40 several times.  Finally, I bought some.  Chains are silky smooth, for now.  XTR and WD-40 are a winning combination.

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I also bought a pair of real shoes, after a week and a half in Birkenstock sandals.  I committed to only bring clothing which I already owned.  While I spent a grip on new bike parts this year (for fun!), I knew for certain all the clothes I would need were already in my possession.  Self-destruction is inevitable with clothing, so why not let them destruct, before replacement?

I found some proper bicycle chain lube at the Tesco superstore.  Free sandals and chain lube to anyone that walks by.

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We begin our path over the mountains on a route comprised of narrow grey lines on our road map.  It proves to be a signed cycling route, and a reliable route over the mountains on a maintained dirt road.  

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Climbing into the rain…

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We find a secure cabin at the top.  All locked up– except for the outhouse– we take cover under the porch for the night.  It is nice to cover ourselves only in netting, and to keep our things dry.  The daily process of drying our things is tiresome, and an uphill battle.

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The morning is foggy, without rain.

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We eventually descend to in Trenčianske Teplice, for groceries, coffee, and internet.  Lael loves this poster advertising regional Slavic mountain festivals.

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Finally, we connect with the 1000 Miles Adventure Route.  This is an annual race route created by Czech adventure rider Jan Kopka, across Czech and Slovakia  We don’t know what to expect. 

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It begins on pavement, climbing tertiary roads into the hills.

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Mostly, we’re following signed hiking and cycling routes along the way.

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Passing through the heart of Slovakia, through towns of wooden villages, old churches, and active farmland.  

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An apiary/treehouse, or beehouse– surprises us in the forest.  There are a lot of bees here, in managed bee communities, in converted trailers and raised beehouses.

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We connect to an historic road, cut from the hillside.  Up, and up, above 1000m.

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A hiking shelter.

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up…connecting a dirt road to a dirt road, via an unrideable hiking trail for a short distance.  We’re beginning to understand the “route”.  It is mostly rideable, but does not shy away from unridable connectors as needed.  This is our preferred mode.

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At the top is a small ski area and a seasonal hotel. It is barely open in the summer.  Winter must be busy here at about 4000ft.

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There are well-signed hiking and cycling trails in these mountains.  It is nice to see cycling trails comprised of rough, unpaved routes.  Slovakian cyclists are hardy.

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Follow the red and white, as ever.  Up and up, as ever.

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We’ll talk more about the bike later.  Yes, the main compartment of the framebag doesn’t have a zipper.  The seatpack conceals a MacBook Air.  I drilled a hole in the fork and several holes in the frame.  And yes, the bike still shreds.

Thanks to Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for the design, creativity, and fabrication, and the dedication to do all of it at the last minute.  Thanks to him, I’m carrying a MacBook and the bike rides like a bike.

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Up over 5000ft, from the river valley below near 1000ft.  Our legs are figuring themselves out.  Rather, mine are gaining figure.  Lael’s have been ready to go since before the Fireweed 400.

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Down, down, down…

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Brakes are hot and our stuff is wet.  Swim in a stream and eat an apple.

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Of course, drink a beer.  Small drinking establishments are ubiquitous in Slovakia, as in Czech.  Beer is about $1, or less.

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The next day, we awake to sun and the opportunity to dry our things.

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The route takes a hike over some high meadows.

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And down grazing lands and logging tracks.

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All of this is adjacent to the Low Tatras National Park.  We soon learn that the logging continues into the park, although you are warned not to ride a bicycle on unstable soils.

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Up again, now on the red hiking trail, one of several national hiking trails across Slovakia.

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Don’t ride on fragile soils, say the signage.  Just drag some logs down the wet roads.  

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I do my best to keep the tires running through the frame.  Thanks to the new Fox fork and the Surly Krampus, even these muddy 2.35″ Hans Dampf tires keep rolling.  That was the plan.

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Six-wheel drive ensures the road remains a quagmire.

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Again, we wash in the stream, dry our things in the sun, and dine.  We refuse to get wet every day.  Lael says, “the forecast in Lviv calls for sun every day”.  We’re moving east.

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Out of the high mountains, between the Low Tatra and the High Tatra, we point towards Ukraine.  The 1000 Miles Adventure Route chooses some mellow dirt and pavement at the front range of the Tatras.

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Celebrating our last few days in Slovakia– not that we aren’t always celebrating– we fire a round of sausages over the fire.

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We enjoy a few more days in the country, before our focus leans towards Ukraine.  Considering our current location in the northeast of the country, a few days in Poland may be in order.  There’s something about Poland.  Namely, the Red Trails capture our attention. 

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Slovakia for a few more days.  Poland for a minute.  Ukraine, for a month or more.

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18 thoughts on “Across Slovakia, up high

  1. Gorgeous photos. Looks like you two are having an awesome time. We’re leaving on a bike tour from Argentina to Peru in a few months and love seeing that other people are having a blast out on the road. Love it! Happy cycling!

  2. This is awesome! Thanks for taking the time to post so much from your journey. I recently discovered your blog while researching some handlebars. I liked it so much that I’ve been working my way thru reading older post. Your writing style makes me think of the voice-overs in The Life Aquatic, which I like.

    • Matthew, I don’t know what to say, re: The Life Aquatic. Nonetheless, it inspires me to keep saying things that sound like other people saying even better things that were in really cool movies. Thanks.

  3. What size macbook air do you have? I am talking to eric about making me the same seat bag so that I can house my 13 inch air on my bikepacking trip to argentina I am on. How do you like the bag? Do you have an estimate of how many liters you can carry in the bag?


    • Patrick, I have the 11″ MBA. I like that the bag reduces shock to the computer when riding rough trails, better than the Carradice Camper I used with a mini Nitto rack. The waterproof liner has been invaluable in all the wet weather we’ve experienced, while dry clothing and bread are a bonus after a good soaking. The structure of the bag is good, but needs some work. The weight of the MBA and the distance it sits behind the seatpost leads to some swaying, which can be mitigated with smart packing methods and proper tensioning. Overall, a very good start. Not sure how many liters total, but a bit more than a standard seatpack.

      • After having a look at your site, I recall some of the places you are riding from previous travels. It seems the road is treating you well; hope the Achilles pain is letting up. By now I suppose you’ve given it some rest and lowered the saddle.

        I’ve taken a closer look at your bike and equipment and I’m not sure if this seatpack design will best serve your needs. It could easily attach to the bike and be a safe place to store the computer and a few other things, but it will not magically contain all of the equipment you are currently carrying.

        First, you’ll have to take a close look at what’s on the bike and make some real decisions about how much you value each piece of gear. Next, what kind of riding do you plan? What level of comfort do you wish on the road? How much food do you need or want to carry? At some point, a pair of panniers may be a reasonable solution to safely contain a computer and other delicate items, and allow easy packing. The ride quality may not be the best when compared to an ultralight bikepacking set-up, but it may not degrade compared to the current system. At any time if you do choose to use panniers, now or in the future, I recommend a few nylon gear straps around the belly of the pannier and the rack, which greatly stabilizes them over rough terrain and makes a much safer, quieter experience.

        Best of luck with the project, and enjoy the ride!

        • I’ve actually jettisoned quite a few things since starting the trip and need to update the kit list. I have also added a bar bag and gas tank bag since I started.

          All the bags on the rear are pretty empty now and it’s time to downsize. Once I get into Central America and beyond I am going to be avoiding pavement as much as I can and search out single track as much as I can.

          I will be dropping a few more things in the near future which will make the ability to adjust to a seat bag possible.

          Hope you are doing well,
          Safe travels!

  4. Hey Nicholas,
    I’ve been meaning to ask about how you were carrying your Macbook Air in your seatpack (I’ve tried with my Terrapin but don’t think it will really work), but a search has led me to where the question has already been asked! Is the seatpack Eric made for you just a little larger than usual? Is it waterproof or are you using a separate drybag as a liner? I’d be interested to see/hear how best you fit the MBA in there (horizontal / vertical etc).

    I have a couple of other questions now that I’ve looked at this post…
    – How have you fixed your front light to the fork brace? I can’t find a photo without mud covering up the attachment point ;-). I’ve just changed my Ogre rigid forks for set of Rebas and would like to have the same setup with my E3 Pro.
    – Whats the most reliable method that you’ve found to fix bottle cages to the lowers of suspension forks? On a previous bike I used Monkii Clips but they were too small for the diameter of the lowers really, and I also managed to lose the bottle attachment mid-descent a couple of times. Have you used hose clips, zip ties, or just copious amounts of duct tape?

    Hope Lael has recovered from the HLC!

    Thanks 🙂

    • Hey Chris,

      The seatpack is a waterproof custom bag sized exactly for the 11″ MBA. There is a stiffener at the base to match the size of the packed computer, which is further encased in a zippered neoprene case, a USPS Tyvek mailer, and an REI 5L drybag. The bag has a waterproof liner sewn into it, although the basic constriction is more of less like a Viscacha.

      I’ve used hose clamps and tape to secure bottles, hose clamps work better but tape is far easier to find so mostly I just use tape and it works fine. The bigger issue is selecting a cage which can securely hold a bottle on rough tracks. The Salsa Nickless Cage might be an ideal solution as is has loops for hose clamps and a winged design which is preferred to the standard cage shape (which becomes weaker as is bends over time, and can allow the bottle to exit form the sides, hence why we use home made straps with velcro). On a fork with proper mounts, the Profile Design Kage is one of the best. Also, check out some of the cages from Velo Orange, which wrap entirely around the bottle. They also have a new 40oz cage which could be good under the DT.

      On the fork, I drilled a hole into the arch of my Fox fork. I selected the Fox for greatly increase tire clearance and the shape of the arch which enabled me to drill a hole for the light. With some patience, a vice, and a drill, you could probably coax some steel into a workable clamp to the arch. Alternatively, I’ve drilled a hole into the crown of the fork before, but you’ll have to check clearance from any luggage above, and make sure the fork clears that light at full compression (take the air out to check). Also, handlebar height mounting might be preferred. I recently mounted my light on Lael’s bike under the aero bars on her Stumpy, and the light output is greatly increased. Just if you can find a way to mount it that is out of the way of your luggage. It is nice to to stare into a super bright spot on your handlebars at night, and the shadows can be challenging.

      • Thanks Nicholas, that’s all really useful. I have my light on the front of a Jones bar at the moment and it’s pretty good there so perhaps I’ll leave it. I need to fashion a bracket for the rear since I’ve taken the rack off.

        I’ll have a look at those bottle racks and consider mounting them on my Reba’s. I’m off to ride the Colorado trail in late August and think that as there’s a fair bit of hike-a-bike I may want to remove the large Klean Kanteen from the bottom of my downtube, as it’s the ideal spot for holding the bike if there is any carrying in involved. So perhaps a couple of bottles on the fork is a better idea for that ride. I’ll also drop Eric a line to see what he thinks about a Macbook-holding seatpack. Not for this trip, but for future longer journeys.

        Loved the insight into the TourDivide from your recent posts on Lael’s ride. She did amazingly, especially given her illness in the first week – just makes you wonder where she would have placed without that hindrance, although I guess every ride/race has its challenges.

        Take care, Chris

        • Chris, I prefer the drive-side chainstay for hike-a-bike, leaving the downtube for water. But, on truly chunky trail, I have hit my Klean Kanteen on some rocks, not that the chainrings wouldn’t have also been in the way. Good luck on the CT. You are ready for it from your time in EU, but the ride will still change your life.

        • In terms of bottle cages, I’d heard good things about the King stainless Iris cage, so bought a pair and used them on my road bike on Flandrian cobbles; the bottles didn’t move an inch. I’m not an adventure biker though, so your mileage will vary, but it’s a name worth researching. I got mine through Condor cycles in the UK.

  5. In terms of bottle cages, I’d heard good things about the King stainless Iris cage, so bought a pair and used them on my road bike on Flandrian cobbles; the bottles didn’t move an inch. I’m not an adventure biker though, so your mileage will vary, but it’s a name worth researching. I got mine through Condor cycles in the UK.

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