We finally escaped the cold, wet weather of Zakopane! On the morning of the 8th we woke up in our tent and it wasn’t raining. That was quite a shock as we had just endured five straight days of nearly incessant rain. I can’t lie, all that weather caused a lot of “Why am I doing this?” moments. Things weren’t helped by the fact that our campground had been taken over by a large group of partying Polish youths. They had tents, but also had the brilliant idea of turning the communal TV room into the location for a multi-day slumber party. We spent most of our time at the campground resenting them.
Right after we woke up, we quickly ran over to the information center to see if it was supposed to be dry all day. The woman working told us that it was and that we better leave today because it was supposed to rain every other day until the 15th! She also told us that we should head west instead of east to avoid the most climbing and descending. Back at the campsite we quickly packed up everything. Our tent was soaking wet; I think the water must have added at least 5 pounds to the weight of the tent.
We only had to ride about 20 kilometers and we were at the Poland-Slovakia border. The guards at the border checked our passports and seeing we were American brought them back into the office for some additional examination. That’s the first time the European border guards have done more than glance at us and wave us through.
I think Sarah underwent some sort of mental change from all the rain. Even the blue skies couldn’t convince her that she was going to be dry, so she suffered in her hot, sweaty raincoat.
If there is one word to describe Slovakia it is mountainous. And for us it has also been very wet. After the nice weather on the 8th, it started raining and we’ve had at least some rain every day since. We were originally planning to ride directly south to Budapest, but our first campsite in Slovakia had a 3D map of the country and we realized our route would take us directly over some high mountains. So we decided to change plans and head southeast to Bratislava instead.
Over the next couple of days we were pretty successful in avoiding any major climbs, but the riding was hilly and we were constantly surrounded by mountains. Except for the gray weather, the scenery was very nice. I think we are here just a couple of weeks too early. If the leaves were changing color it would be spectacular.
Drying out our gear as much as possible in the early afternoon became a common theme.
I think we saw maybe one or two stumbling-drunk old guys in all of the Czech Republic and Poland, but we saw two really weird ones on the same day in Slovakia. The first guy was at the cafe inside a giant Tesco supermarket. He was sitting at a table with a lot of money strewn all over and he was yelling occasionally. Everyone was ignoring him, so we did too. Then all of the sudden he stood up quickly and then keeled over backwards and was sprawled out on the middle of the cafe floor. The more surprising thing was that everyone just continued to ignore him. People acted like it was business as usual; maybe it was. Eventually a bunch of construction workers came and picked him up and put him in a chair again. Someone else gathered up his wads of cash and put it all back into his wallet for him. Afterwards, he kept getting up and harassing the construction workers. Maybe that is why everyone was ignoring him in the first place. We took off and then only about 10 kilometers down the road we passed a hectic bus stop were people were coming and going. Totally normal except there was a guy who was lying on the pavement next to his bike right in the middle of the bus lane. He looked like he had fallen off his bike and had just never gotten up. Everyone was ignoring him too.
On our third day of riding, Sarah started to feel like she was getting a cold. She got worse throughout the day and by the afternoon she was feeling pretty miserable. We asked at a small grocery store if there was any camping nearby and were told there was a site about 15 kilometers away, so we headed in the direction he pointed us. When we arrived at the village where the campsite was supposed to be, we didn’t see any signs so we asked a teenage boy if there was any camping around. He said yes and pointed down the road. When we asked how far, he said 2 kilometers. Now that we had been told by two people that there was a campsite, we were feeling pretty confident that there was one, but we couldn’t find it. We rode about four kilometers without seeing anything but thick forest and it was getting dark so we decided to look for a pension to spend the night. Sarah was convinced the teenage boy was actually afraid of us and didn’t speak English, but was just trying to tell us what we wanted to hear. I’m not sure what happened. In any case, after a little searching in the village we found a nice pension run by a friendly German-speaking family. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how useful our German has been all over Eastern Europe. The pension came with a private bathroom, fridge, satellite TV, and full kitchen for 600 Slovak crowns (~US$25).
Sarah was still feeling poorly the next morning so we decided to rest one more day in comfort in the pension. We spent the day watching music videos on the European channels and I attempted to do all our laundry in our dry bag. I don’t think it was worth it because it took forever and didn’t work as well as a washing machine. Afterwards, my thick wool socks still smelled like the inside of a barn.
After Sarah was feeling sufficiently recovered, we pushed on. About 200 kilometers from Bratislava things really flattened out. We had an extremely gradual descent from 500m down to 50m and then it was pancake flat from then on.
The flat farmland was a nice change, but unfortunately some nasty winds came along with it. At times we were struggling to cycle 10km/h. Here is Sarah explaining to me that we’re doomed and should seriously consider hitchhiking. (Once again, despite the blue skies she can’t seem to part from that raincoat!)
The last 100 kilometers or so into Bratislava were uneventful except for two things. One, they bake gargantuan loaves of bread around here.
And two, Sarah hit 8000 kilometers on her odometer right as we road into Bratislava.
Now that we’ve arrived in Bratislava, we are attempting to figure out how we are going to get to Dubrovnik, Croatia to meet our friend Sean. By land it will entail a train ride to Zagreb and a bus down the coast to Dubrovnik. We are also considering leaving our bikes in Bratislava and just flying to Croatia and then returning to Bratislava October 1st and picking up the cycling where we left off.