A plan is made to meet Przemek— or Dusza, as he is often called amongst friends and Polish bike forums. He and Marcin arrive in Zwardon by train at exactly sometime after seven, and we arrive exactly 15 minutes late for our multi-day tour without a single morsel of food in our packs. Pzemek and Marcin have been here before– this, the second annual meeting of old university friends to push and ride bikes in the mountains. It is hardly an excuse for our lateness or lack of preparation, but we awoke in the Czech Republic with both Czech and Polish currency in our pockets. We crossed into Slovakia in the morning, where the Euro is used as currency, and did not return to Poland until the final few kilometers of the day. Not wanting to invest in a third currency for a brief day trip, we ate the last crumbs out of our bags and shot for the Polish border. Luckily, Polish stores are open late. Arriving in Zwardon, a tiny railroad town in the south, we quickly purchase kolbasa, ser, piwo, and kapusta, staple foods of the Polish bikepacker. We are joining Przemek on his trip, unaware that this moment begins a two-month long tour, unaware of where we are going exactly.
Crossing into Poland on an unfinished superhighway, exactly fifteen minutes late. Projects like this will change a place. The existing road is small and serpentine. The new road will allow Polish tourists to speed into Slovakia to go skiing. The Polish love to drive fast.
We camp for the evening, finding new routines and old routines together. Morning is the time to pack and repack, tune bicycles and bodies. Lael’s bike works just fine, so she opts for some yoga. I forget, now I remember, that it is a real pain in the ass to adjust the rear brake on a Surly Pugsley. Departing, we ride, hike, and scramble up to 1200m and more. These jeeps tracks are decidedly unrideable. Optimistically, as is easy on the first day of a trip, we continue.
Conditions improve, but ‘up’ is the direction of choice today.
Reaching one of many mountain huts in the area, we break for the afternoon to avoid the heat, and to enjoy cold piwo, baked pyrohy, and shade. A cold shower is available for a small fee. In the winter, a sauna invites guests.
A happy Alaskan finds wild blueberries to add to bike grease. These hands tell stories of summer.
Back out for an early evening ride, we encounter incredible singledoubletrack along the ridge– down, and back up. Ridge trails are notoriously undulating.
The red route signifies a long-distance hiking route, while other colors indicate approach routes– the shortest route to a ridge or a peak. Locally, a papal route is signed by green blazes (dedicated to the Pope, so it must be easy).
The four of use ride vastly different bicycles, all capable of rough stuff and changing conditions. Surprisingly, we don’t discuss bicycles much, although the stregths of each are apparent as the trail changes. Marcin’s full-suspension rig descends like a rocket. Przemek’s bike does exactly what a Pugsley does– everything.
Looking towards Slovakia, our eyes graze the High Tatras. There are a lot of riding possibilities in this region. The Carpathian Mountains form a broad crescent, stretching from the eastern edge of the Czech Republic, through Slovakia and Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia. The bulk of the range exists in Romania (about 50%), although each country offers enough riding and hiking for years of exploration.
As evening falls, we approach another much smaller mountain hut, this one a bit more like a hostel. For about $3 we get a shower and a place to pitch a tent. The canteen sells cold Zywiec beer and prepared foods, as well as some packaged goods for the trail. Superlight travel would be easy around here, especially in the summer. One could plan multi-day tours in the mountains without cooking or sleeping equipment. On clear nights, a simple bivy would suffice to save a few zloty and to enjoy star-filled skies. After our first real day of riding, we rest tired feet and legs. Some legs are more tired than others. Lael never gets tired. She ends the day with a run in the mountains, minutes before dark.
With separate agendas, we part ways in the morning. Before descending to town, we visit a small hut where smoked sheep’s cheese is prepared, either called oscypek or gołka, from sheep or cow’s milk, respectively. The structure is saturated with smoke. The cheese is formed in a wooden mold and smoked for days, although the texture within is much like cheese curd. It contains little moisture and squeaks between the teeth when bitten.
We enjoyed riding with Przemek and Marcin, and value seeing old friends reconnect on the trail. We hope to ride with Przemek again in a few days! For more Polish Pugsley adventures and rainy Welsh bikepacking trips, visit Prezemek’s blog In Between Spokes.