Muddy is the hillside

At five o’clock in the morning, when I finally succeeded to insert the key into the lock of my grandmother’s apartment, they should just shoot me dead – after tumultuous goodbye-party that, besides compulsory shaving of my head, comprised of more Slivovitz (plum brandy) than my morning departure was capable of handling, I’ve completely forgotten about any traveling – suddenly it’s quarter to eight and my naive plan to be at the train station in fifteen minutes harshly and bluntly diverges from the reality trapped in my head full of shards of yesterday’s evening.  Completely absent-minded, with a blank expression in my face I still have to pack my clothes, my grandma, worried, packs schnitzels for first day into plastic bags and not even thirty minutes after I had woken up, I jump out into the street, like a callow bird falling out of the nest into a maw of a beast. The clock was merciless, nevertheless, and I am really sorry if somebody had been waiting for me at eight at the station and didn’t see me. Great things happen to happen slowly and so we (me and my three-member accompaniment) left Hodonín behind well-past nine.

Baggage is all in all about a hundred pounds and when I first sat on the bike, I had a feeling that it will break apart underneath me. Handlebars oscillated, brakes cried, the handling in the bends reminded me of that of a bus and it was all strangely undulating, which summoned a dark vision about a cracked frame. The culprit turned out to be a thin millimeter aluminum plate in which I believed so much that I allowed him to hold the rear rack. When it found out how things are, it tried to bail out of it in various ways, twisting and bending, until it was replaced on Monday morning by a three-milimeter thick bent piece of steel, which stood up to the challenge like a man. Before I procured it, it involved finding a suitable shop, searching for a hardware store, redirecting to a locksmith, locksmith querying, vague description of a route to the end of Bratislava somewhere between Rača and Vajnory, getting help from the receptionist of a practical school I was directed to and finally skilled hands of one of the local masters. And that’s when I first felt a bit of that Spirit of the Journey – the invisible hand of providence that leads every independent traveler through any problems pleasant and unpredictable path of least resistance. Of course, I did not pay anything at all.

There’s not much to be said about cycling through Austria – flatlands, nicely adjusted villages, two thousand and three million windmills and beautiful bike paths. As opposed to the plan, I decided to make a little detour and get some sleep at Lake Neusiedl, which in combination with a fabulous sunset turned out to be a splendid idea.

On Tuesday morning, it started to rain. This apparently minor caprice of the weather then heralded the appearance of the passage through Hungary, which instead of being a place enjoying the smell of goulash, peppers and salamis turned to a mere transit stampede further away. It rained all the way (and actually didn’t stop until today – October 24th), moisture was annoying and it was rather difficult to find a place on soaked grounds of the fields and forrests. Just before darkness fell, I managed to find a decent meadow about half a mile from the road outside of the city of Ják.

When I look back on it, it’s always those small, seemingly unimportant decisions that can change everything. That evening the little decision was this idea: “What if I tried to fix all the cords and pins tonight, to see how the tent looks like when properly anchored?” (Normally I just anchor the corners and don’t waste time with the rest).

One never expects much from the first week on the road. Everything is steal clean and functioning from the safe port of home and the road lets the pilgrim to get used to all that a little, before it casts all sorts of tests upon him. However, my road didn’t wait for anything and decided to put me to the test already in Hungary:

As soon as I closed my eyes, the world around came to life and in a flurry of all imaginable squawking birds I sometimes heard unpleasant deep grunts. It was probably a frog, because what would a wild boar do on the meadow between the fields, but falling asleep wasn’t easy anyway. Half an hour ago the rain stopped for a while but now I thought that it would not be bad if it started again, in order to not hear the disturbing sounds.

My wishes were heard more than amply – within half an hour the wind picked up and lightnings began to cut the sky apart. A moment later my tent turned into a submarine. This certainly wasn’t a fine light shower I’ve wished for. The tent rattled and groaned in the wind and the side walls sagged under thick, constant streams of water being poured down on it like an epic biblical punishment. I slept very little and most of the night I spent measuring the interval between lightning and thunder, discovering that  the storm just revolves around.

At four in the morning it rained for over eight hours and still with the same intensity of kicked-off hydrant, so I began to wonder whether the surrounding soil is still thirsty. It wasn’t. In the tent’s hallway my boots swam in ten centimeters of water. The rest of the night I comforted myself with last grandma’s schnitzels and waited if the water rises even more. Exhausted, I fell asleep at the dawn.

Neither daylight yielded denouement therefore around eleven I decided to pack up and go on, regardless of the muddy, wet tent. When I crawled out, I found that the rain has created a quite ferocious river, which cut me off from the road, about half a meter deep (as I later found out reluctantly) with more than two meters in width, just ten feet from the tent. If I had built the tent two meters to the left, I’d have drowned at night.

About a mile away, I found a place where it was feasible to wade through the stream – it was just about a meter wide and I could get back on the road from there. Once I’ve stepped in, my legs slid on the mud and my feet disappeared more than twenty numbers beneath the surface and my waterproof boots began to produce slosh-splish-splashy sounds of defeat.

Do setmění zbývalo už jen šest hodin a do Mariboru, kde jsem měl domluvené spaní, to bylo ještě přes sto dvacet kilometrů. Necítil jsem mokré nohy, bylo mi zima a přišly první kopce. Na přestávky a ohřívání ale nebyl čas. Naštěstí jsem si našel způsob, jak vytrvat: Bolí tě zadek? – Dej si müsli tyčinku; Je ti zima? – Dej si müsli tyčinku; Už nemůžeš? – …

Just six hours were remaining till dusk and it was more than hundred and twenty kilometers to Maribor, where I had arranged an overnight stay at my friends. My wet feet were numb, I was cold and ran into the first hills. There was no time to make breaks or to warm myself up somewhere, but I’ve discovered a perfect way to persist: Does your ass hurt? – Get a cereal bar! – Are you cold? – Get a cereal bar! – Can’t you go any further? – … guess what?

At this point I would like to accordingly praise this Kaufland product worth 0.15$ – claimless on honorarium, of course.

My bike tried to be helpful and show me that it also feels my despair and so it decided to brake two of its spokes. Unfortunately, the cereal-bar-method of keeping strong will didn’t apply to them and there was no time to repair it, hence I arrived in Maribor at eight in the evening with my rear rim curly and deformed like a Mobius strip and with my rear brake disconnected.

Two days of rest in Maribor returned everything back to normal again – tent is already as clean as it was on the day of its production, I’m well fed and thanks to impeccable bike center in Maribor the wheel is not only in true again(for free), but I’ve also received a mudguard and I’m richer by a wrench for removing the cassette that I got with 50% discount.

Tomorrow at seven I set off with new vigor to conquer one hundred sixty kilometers to Ljubljana. And rain it should not.

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