Conflicting Emotions

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Rain by Don Paterson

3.5/5

A mixed-bag, within which I feel there is a little something for everyone, but I am uncertain how satisfying the overall package is. My relationship, not only with the whole collection, but with individual pieces, is in constant flux – not only from mood to mood, but from moment to moment. 

Sometimes a piece and I sing at at complementary frequencies; at others, the same piece lies flat and lifeless upon the page.

And then I don’t know: am I being overly generous because such-and-such a piece was there for me at the right time? or overly harsh because it wasn’t the right moment for it? I think it’s only fair to go with the latter, with the caveat that many of these pieces are fair-weather friends: there to reflect a mood, but not to influence or alter one.

With that in mind, if you do hit upon that particular piece at that particular moment, I’m sure you’ll find some moments to treasure. I’m similarly sure that sometimes you’ll find nothing worth your while.

Despite the low moments, it does hit some heights and there is some genuine feeling here that makes it worth visiting despite the misses – and leads me to feel that this is a slightly above average collection worth a qualified recommendation.

 

Pit-Stops

La Roche-sur-Yon to a Corn Field 12k beyond La Tranche-sur-Mer: Friday 18 August 2017

12:20. Another large E.Leclerc in La Roche-sur-Yon, to the South of the city this time, as that’s the direction we’re headed, but it’s still massive! Bit of a ridiculous size for us to do our shopping for the day, but it was exactly on the way, with little inspiring us to deviate – in this weather.

Pissing
it
Down

Temperature’s pleasant enough – 21º – so the bare minimum of layers is possible under the proving-ever-so-useful poncho, which will enable us to dry out more quickly when the rain does cease.

If

Our second point of call today will take us to La Tranche-sur-Mer, and a campsite there to meet a guy, Robert, who’s going to give me a hand with, and a second opinion on, tuning my front derailleur – thanks for putting us in touch, Sue.

I’ve been given a great step-by-step by the ever-supportive Rob from Rob’s Bikecenter, but it’ll be nice to have access to a stand and some more tools should I discover something unexpected.

It’s also a lovely ride to and along the coast there, and doesn’t add any k to our way, in terms of Bordeaux, so why the hell not make contact with another kindly soul?

And, from his last text, I get the impression the weather’s going to pick up.

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Your Own Voices

La Paulière Field to Le Riot du Plessis (Le Plessis Bergeret): Tuesday 15 August 2017

1125. Outside a supermarket on the edge of La Verrie. Have already decamped, rode to a boulangerie, breakfasted, aired, stretched in a park – and are ready to make our (hopefully) chilled way to a forest some ten kilometres shy of the city in which our rest-day hotel dwells.

Despite the overnight light rain and the upon-waking-up shower accompanied by a symphony of ominous clouds which got us up and decamped in 50 minutes yesterday, it was our first day in prolonged proper heat since we left Vienna and began our English odyssey – and I guess I was a little rusty at hydrating properly. I’ve got one of those thirsts today that can never quite be quenched, like when you’ve had one-too-many the previous evening. So, with midday and our serious riding of the day on the horizon, the clouds all broken up and wispy, 25º on the thermometer, the Sun beaming on me, and a sheen of sweat cooling the torso, I’ll have to keep an eye on that today.

1535. La Ferrier: not our destination, but pretty damn close and, personally speaking, also about the limit my body’d like to  go today – particularly my bum.

It’s been, I forget now, thirteen consecutive days on the saddle – and that hotel and that rest-day are looking pretty damn attractive right now.

Don’t get me wrong: loving the ride today, and much prefer camping to the alternatives, but sometimes your body, or something else, has got different priorities and, after only 190 minutes riding and about 47km covered, my body and bum are telling me: “Rest!”

Tonight is another night under canvas. Hope we are able to find a place in that forest we marked as our target for today. Hard to tell exactly what ‘forest’, ‘landuse’ or ‘meadow’ mean on maps.me, but we’ll see, and at some point needs just tell you: “Stop being fussy – and stop! Here’s perfect.”

So we will end up somewhere …
… and it will be just right 😀

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1710. A lake. Human-made or made for human? Don’t care: chilling. On our way to where we are going, passed it. “Shall we stop there and chill out by the water?” Yes. 40-ish minutes of horizontal immobility and eye-shuttage later, and I’m doodling.

We’ve been chilling.

Because all of what we’re doing is so pleasurable and so fulfilling, it may be seen as one long holiday; it isn’t; it’s work; and we also sometimes forget that, lost in our reveries or our silly conversations as move from here to here.

Enforced getting up and out there so early this morning has allowed us this time to just stop; we’ve done the bulk of our riding for the day (hopefully), and just have to get from here to tent-pitch time. That’s a time to chill, too, but it’s more a drifting towards total switch-off and sleep than just doing nothing, which is a significant, and only just now appreciated, difference.

Would be nice to camp here and though, with our experience of France’s nonchalance, tolerance and indulgence so far, I guess it’d be possible, we may feel just a little bit too exposed to foot-traffic at random times to be able to switch off completely for the big sleep … and, er, satisfy certain more solid bodily functions in the morning, though it’d be great to just wake up and be in our breakfast spot already, even though we’ve barely got enough food to see us through to sleep this evening. We only carry just enough to see us through until the next time we are able to restock on fuel and it must be holiday fortnight or whatever in this region at the moment, as most towns are like ghost ones: the roads are pleasantly devoid of serious traffic and an open shop or boulangerie or café is a bonus rather than a taken-for-granted.

It’s nice, again, to see that the French still respect the weekend, still respect general time off rather than selling it all out to the needs of that ‘all important economy’ thing that everyone talks about with such significance, but very few, if any, could actually define. And it doesn’t seem to be doing France any harm – at all! The standard of living is clearly high – and clearly higher than those countries with which I’m familiar that are slave to this economy thing. The quality of life is, well, incomparably higher again; from what I’ve seen, anyway. And they’re trying much more effectively to not let economic progress or development savage too much of their natural surroundings. That’s not to say some isn’t savaged, but not on the don’t-give-a-shit-scale as England or Poland.

And, returning to a theme which I’m feeling and noticing – France is just France: how it is. England always seems to be trying to be something, trying to define itself – why can’t it just be? It’d be happier if it did, and feel so much better, too, than when it’s trying to put on airs and graces, and be like something it’s seen elsewhere. It’s there elsewhere because it evolved elsewhere. You don’t become chic and cool by pretending to be someone else, you do it by throwing away your complexes; by being yourself, but not at the expense of others, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people being themselves, and I love them for that, but when I see areas, villages, or towns clearly trying to dress themselves up in a way French towns, villages or areas instinctively do, I now know why it always comes across as feeling contrived and somewhat oppressive within my home shores – because it was trying to impose something.

If you want to be influenced by something positive, please do – there can never be too much positivity, but be influenced by the spirit that brought it to be; don’t just copy, in the hope that imitation will bring the same results. It may appear to do so, but it’s heart will be missing – and that is from where life flows.

Of course, I am spending all or most of my time in the best of France, or what France can be – why would I spend my days following roads I found distasteful? – but the fact that such a spirit exists and lives and thrives means there is no reason why this positive should not be ubiquitous, at the expense of the negative; rather than vice versa as so much of our mediated worlds lead us to believe.

Live life. Celebrate life. That is all. It’s easy, it really is, but for some reason we think it’s complicated – and that others enjoying life is to be envied, to maybe fear, and therefore to be curtailed. It isn’t. Just join in, or follow your own heart and passion, and you’ll soon find that other’s lives will bother you less and less as, simultaneously, you become part of a greater world of lives lived. And it’s a beautiful thing, it really is. You only have to do it and not heed those doubting voices with their vested interests – because those voices are not your own.

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Sun Chasing

Saint-Pierre-des-Loges to the Char Sherman Memorial: Wednesday 09 August 2017

10:35. Park-Bench, Saint-Pierre-des-Loges.

Water’s on the stove. Tent and fly are draped over the bikes; bike covers are similarly draped over a fence; Agnieszka’s poncho, too. The ground sheet is spread out on the floor to catch some distant Sun. My gears and chain sound a bit crunchier today. I’m a bit damp.

It pissed it down early yesterday evening.

Pissed.

It.

Down.

We’re practised now, though, so nothing got wet that shouldn’t get wet and we had a great night’s sleep cocooned in our nylon shell.

We do like our tent.

Decamped efficiently, and, yes, we now sit on a bench, with the feeble Sunlight gallantly making an effort to warm us. The coffee now brewing will help, and the avocado kanapki are going down well, too.

A similar ride, in terms of distance and goal, in prospect today. Another night under canvas and, I’ve got to say, the weather looks like it may have similar conditions in store; but if we’re able to get the wet things mostly dry and packed away before we set off again, it’ll be OK; well, it’ll have to be, whatever.

Tomorrow will be our eighth day with some riding involved; a couple of those days have been really easy though. However, you should always eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty, rest before you’re tired, blahdy blahdy blahdy, so we had thought that a rest day on Friday would be nice. However, in the absence of a Warmshowers’ host, friends in the area, or the desire to spend our diminishing funds on a two-night stay in a hotel, we’ve opted for a short ride to a hotel tomorrow morning for an early afternoon check-in, followed by some cleaning, some wifi-ing, and resting – possibly with a few beers in the evening – before continuing our way Southward Friday morning.

Chasing that Sun.

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Seems like we’re slipping into a kind of morning routine now, where, upon waking, we decamp and move off until the nearest suitable breakfast spot is come across. This serves two, maybe three, purposes: we get packed up and keep dry things dry; we get packed up and move on until a time when things can dry out and we can fuel; and maybe number three: we inch a little further along our merry way. So, we’re nice and chilled in the mornings, and ready to focus on and enjoy the riding through the afternoons.

Today we’ve got a fair old way to cover before our main stop – about 32k. The temperature’s up to 21º now from 12º; layers are off and that damp cold feeling’s gone – so here’s to some more of that good ol’ bicycle touring 😃

Wouldn’t be surprised at more rain or showers later, though.

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Normandy is, without doubt, within my world of experience so far, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Even the exhilarating downhills reward you with beautiful vistas. The vast majority of buildings sit unobtrusively, as one with, and complementary to, the natural surroundings, due in no small part to the building materials being sourced from the area. The towns and cities are charm-fests, and the natural surroundings, well, non-exotic as they are, in the sense that they are non-mountainous, non-coastal and Northern European, similar to where I myself come, are just breathtakingly wonderful and amazing – reminding us all of what the countryside is and can be. Simply marvellous.

I keep saying this at least once a day on our little way through France so far, but it is wonderful to be alive, and all our preparations would be worth it if it was for this and this alone.

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“Norman rain: famous actor in er 1917.

“We’ve stopped near a sherman tank. Every boy of ten has maybe dreamed about driving one or played with a toy version of them, at least when I was a kid. We stand near the Char Sherman Memorial.

“A family’s just dashing back to their car.

“We find shelter in the middle of Normandy. When we’re going downhill, we’re rewarded with views. When we’re going uphill, the uphills are slightly less than the downhills. When it starts pissing it down, a shelter is presented to us…

…on every occasion, I kid you not. Ja pierdolę! Yeah.”

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“What do you think, Aga?”

“I’m really happy we’re here; and I really want us to stay here for the night, and I think we will.”

“I think we will, yeah, it looks like er…”

“Wow!”

“Y’see, the bad thing with this weather is: it’s bad weather. The good thing with the bad weather is: not many people are going to be wandering around.”

“Exactly. I think it’s perfect. No-one. I think it’s perfect, because we’re in the middle of this big, beautiful, old forest. It’s like Beskidy of Normandy.”

“It’s fucking…”

“Listen to that – that’s the roof!”

“Ja pierdolę.”

“Seriously. We were riding. We got to Le Bouillon. The rain did start to get a little heavier. We thought: ‘OK, we’ll stop at a bus shelter until it eases up.’ We rode a bit – and the rain just came on – and we saw this shelter. We stopped and thought: ‘OK, looks kind of nice.’

And the heavens have fucking opened.

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And, er, this is not only a shelter for now, but possibly the evening. Normandy keeps providing us with the answers to all of the problems we may be presented with. Whatever happens, whenever we leave Normandy, it will have a place in our hearts forever, I believe.”

“No, babe, it hasn’t been all good. I mean, we got absolutely drenched yesterday. We were basically just standing, because we got so stupidly wet. Our dry-bags and panniers got wet – inside! Everything was wet.”

“Can I just stop you there, Aga? because I believe only someone’s panniers were wet inside, because, I don’t know, maybe they weren’t closed properly – what do you reckon?”

“There, there were too many things…”

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

“We both made mistakes. My pannier…my dry-bag was wet inside because I thought it’d be a good idea to open it while it was raining. Hmmm.”

Epilogue

2130. In the tent. Under the shelter. Perfectly blending the human and the natural. Camping within a human-made bricks-and-mortar structure, yet open to the world and still exposed. No sign of a let up in the rain. As Agnieszka remarked earlier: “This is a definition of being in the right place at the right time.”

And it is.

We’ve been kind of lucky, or have we made our own luck? or have we just made the best of whatever’s put in our way so that it’s felt like luck?

Doesn’t matter, really.

For many other people, having to bed down under a shelter to avoid getting piss wet through on the way to no-specific-destination may not be a definition of ‘fun’ or ‘luck’.

For us, we’re made up.

Maybe we’re getting better at reacting and proacting, so that we’re getting less likely to put ourselves in unfortunate situations. Since entering France it does seem like the downhills have been longer than the ups; the ups have had more tailwinds than not; and every corner has presented us with a solution to a potential problem.

Yesterday, as the heavens opened in Anceins, where we figured we’d have a wee stop and a check of our route: a shelter available to do all of that and wait for a dry moment to get back on our way. Yes, it did piss it down as we stopped to make camp in the evening, but it gave us a long enough break in order to do so – keeping saturation to a minimum (there was still a lot, though).

This morning, our breakfast stop allowed us to, yes, breakfast, and air our things well. Later on this evening, as we chased the blue skies, entering Le Bouillon, we lost the chase and the heavens opened again – just as we turned a corner to see a bus shelter, where we stopped, had a yummy yoghurt made from Normandy milk, and amused a cheeky gang of sisters and a brother.

Then, as the downpour ceased, we got on our way – till it threatened again, where we are now: this very place we thought we’d hole up in until it ceased again. Then thought: “Fuck it, let’s eat and pitch here!”

Which we did.

Indulging in more fabulous French food. Wow! It is so surprisingly fabulous to a degree I hadn’t imagined. Every food and flavour sings in your mouth and demands your undivided attention. It’s a truly Zen thing. When you eat, you eat; and you enjoy it and live it for all that it is.

And wow!

The food here just makes you happy. Enough to make a grey moment light. In fact, vanquish it forever. We passed what I guess would be the equivalent of a Polish milk-bar earlier and thought: “That would probably be a four-star restaurant in terms of food quality in England.” And it’s not done for any other reason than it makes eating a pleasure, an event, an unpretentious event that just puts a smile on your face.

And the environment as well.

And the riding – has it been designed for cyclists? or is there a bit of France for everyone? or Normandy at least?

One thing I do know is: Normandy, we love you, and, by extension, France, so far we love you, too. Your tastes, your smells, your sights, your sounds – and your riding and camping. You’re a dream I don’t want to wake up from.

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The Bare Essentials

La Chapelle-Hareng to Touquettes: Tuesday 08 August 2017

10:50am. Bernay. We’ve backtracked a little – 8km – before we really begin our day, to ensure we’re able to shop and stock up on supplies. I guess I can now understand that when Napoleon is supposed to have said ‘the English are a nation of shopkeepers’, this may have been used pejoratively: outside of the towns your chances of finding or passing a shop on the off-chance are limited. That’s not to say they’re not there, but stand out they don’t.

Was OK yesterday as we had a grand breakfast by the peace-tree in the forest, a decadent crêpe in the ridiculously picturesque village of Le Bec-Hellouin, and had the comfort of knowing we had some Warmshowers’ hosts awaiting us within a reasonable enough distance if we didn’t find a shop along our way.

Today, and for the next few days, wild camping’s on the cards, so each shop takes on an extra significance. Little things you take for granted at home, but don’t consider until you can’t.

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Like water.

You need it for coffee, you need it to cook, and you need it to drink.

Oh,

and you need it to clean.

The pots.

Yourself.

“But that’s different water.”

Er, no, it isn’t, and if you haven’t got it or you’re not carrying enough, you’ll have to sacrifice one or more of those things.

And they are all non-sacrificeable; to the same degree.

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Maybe you don’t have to clean as much as you need to eat, but, really, don’t you? that’s also pretty much non-negotiable; at least, from where I’m sitting, anyway.

So, for now, we shop. Well, Agnieszka shops. I stand with the bikes doodling words whilst she shops. It works better for our diet, I’m sure, but it would be nice if I could do it more often; or we could do it together; but, Finkel and Einhorn!

Grey and drizzly at the moment. Could be a damp camp. We’re both glad our meander is Southward. We’re not afraid of a bit of rain or cold, but the absence of them does make life a little simpler; a little easier.

From here, we plan to head South, following a river about as far as it goes to Anceins, about 30k away. Looks like it could be a nice route. From there, as we should still be good for another 20, we’re heading towards Saint-Pierre-des-Loges, via Touquettes. Sandwiched between those two is a huge patch of green, likely to be a forest, where we hope to pitch our tent.

Looks like another nice day’s riding in prospect, and about 57km covered towards the South.

For now, breakfast 😀

French food – you b*st*rd!

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Normandy, we ❤️ you.

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Tracks

Melton Mowbray to Warlingham: Thursday 03 August 2017

13:37. Moving again. 30km. Melton to Leicester. Perfectly pleasant ride, given the fact we hadn’t ridden fully-laden for eleven days, and, despite one gentle ride at the weekend, had been fairly inactive – and softening.

The getaway was nice and smooth
until the moment we came to put the panniers on the bikes.

Yesterday evening, whilst packing as much as we could, I noticed an unfamiliar-looking screw on the bedroom floor. It may have dropped out of something when we were unpacking.

It’s an innocuous looking thing that may have dropped out of the spare bag of nuts and screws that we keep just in case. I’ll just pop it th…

Ah, the pannier with that in is in the garage. I’ll just pop it in here for now.

“Shit!”

As I went to attach the front-left pannier, five minutes away from departing exactly when we wanted. The bottom rail that holds the pannier onto the bottom part of the front rack: hanging loose at the hook end. I didn’t need to look at what kind of screw was missing.

I knew.

“Motherfucker!”

Let’s get a screw from elsewhere on the pannier and use it as a replacement for now.

“Motherfucker!” It’s come loose, but it won’t come out. May as well check all the others while we’re at it.

Good job we did.

“Motherfucker!” They all need tightening. On every pannier.
Ortleib: kings of the pannier – never heard about this before. Is it a thing?

It must be.

One Heath-Robinson patch up with a piece of string and we’re rolling. A little disconcerted at the thought that the panniers are not as infallible as I’d thought, but what can you do? And it seems like gravity does more of the job than the hook, so…

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“It’s raining.”
“It’s only drizzle – not worth bothering about.”
“True, but there’s no let up in the clouds. We’re just going to keep running into it.”

We did. Not more than three minutes later, the drizzle became a downpour.

“I’m stopping.” To poncho.

“Where is it?”

“Motherfucker!”

In one of the more accessible panniers.
Yes, that front one now bound up a little more with some twine.

Still, we got it off and got in to get ponchoed and waterproof-trousered

And had a quick snack: we’d been riding for practically an hour, so why not?

The rain’s stopped. Of course, England and its bloody showers.

But we got to Leicester well on time for an easy wait for our train.

~~~~~~~

Now we sit. Uneasy. Uneasily waiting to meet our bikes again at St. Pancras. Hastily chucked into the bike hole on this train. Glad you don’t have to pay for that indignity on British trains. Hold tight Finkel, hold tight Einhorn: we’re thinking of you. It won’t be long.

~~~~~~~

And they stood
all the way!?

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Oh, I’m so proud. They grow up so quickly these days, don’t they 😁

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Thank You, Czechia

Brno to Těšetice [Part 1]: Tuesday 11 July 2017

0639. In a kitchen listening to and smelling the cleansing scent of a Summer downpour. Think it’s been at it for most of the night. Every time I recall waking, it was to the sound of rain and the distant echo of thunder. If it continues like this for much of the day, which it certainly appears like doing at the moment, it’ll add another dimension to the day’s ride, but nothing too dramatic: the temperatures are still high, so just the same riding gear as usual, with the poncho, the clear lenses in my shades, and sandals instead of my riding boots. Sounds a bit minimal, but one thing I learnt from last Friday’s downpour-day is that it wasn’t so much the getting wet that was the problem, but the staying wet while accumulating more water.

As we speak, it seems like there is a brief let up,
but, as I said,
that doesn’t really change anything in terms of getting off today.

That’s what we’re doing.

The next stage of our journey will hopefully see us in and around Vienna late Thursday afternoon, where we hope to be able to find someone to host us for a couple of nights, to put our feet up for a little longer and be able to enjoy some of this historic city. Have contacted five Warmshowers potentials so far, but, as of yet, have only received two negatives to our enquiries; which is cool, as it’s totally their prerogative which stranger they graciously invite into their homes, isn’t it; and it’s nice they have responded so promptly, so we can already tick them off the list.

It is July though, and Vienna’s not the most anonymous of cities, so one would imagine there are a fair few visitors more than usual.

Still, fingers crossed.

Something will turn up, and we’re going that way, anyway, so one way or another it will get experienced.

So, we approach the time when we’ll be saying a fond farewell to Czechia. This will be our ninth day here – and what a positive experience it’s been! From the beautifully lush, sweeping terrain of Moravia, to the slightly more scorched, Northern Mediterranean feel of the lower lying central regions, it has been an absolute joy, pleasure and privilege to be able to enjoy and be a part of the natural treasures that, to be honest, I wasn’t aware existed on such a Czech-wide scale as they do.

For that reason alone, I’d recommend anyone who has the opportunity, time or inclination taking as prolonged a visit as possible to this part of the world – preferably by bike or on foot, as I’m pretty sure that’s the best way to allow a place to touch all your senses 😉

And the people, too:

  • from the woman on the first night who allowed us space to camp in her lovely garden, and kept offering us extra things as afternoon progressed into evening;
  • to our fantastic Warmshowers’ hosts, Michal and Zuza, who invited us to join them on that wonderful ride through Beskidy;
  • which was then the ride that took us to the community in the mountain forests, who keep them clear by traditional means from their predation by various grasses, to allow the wild orchids that are native there to flourish. Great people, with whom it would have been nice to be able to spend a little more time and support them in what they’re doing. Unfortunately, time and circumstance didn’t allow it to be so at this time;
  • to the guy in the petrol station who acted as an informal Bureau de Change to allow a pair of tired looking cyclists the possibility to be able to get a coffee from a cash-only coffee machine;
  • to Ondrej and Jaroslava , who, despite being in the middle of moving home, with two young children, a son of one and a half – the cheeky Jakub, with the sweet grin that’ll see him get away with murder one day – and a daughter of three months, found time to offer us accommodation in the flat which they’re leaving – all to ourselves!!! – while they slowly settle into the impressive house they now call home; and who also found time to invite us round to said new home for a chill evening of good food, pleasant chat, good beer and a tasty Slivovitz, homemade by Ondrej’s dad 😃

Yes, Czechia, you’ve done yourself proud, and we’ve really enjoyed our time here. As a clearly keen cycling nation – and quite an active nation in general, I feel – the pleasure has also been heightened by the possibility to enjoy our environs on roads, routes, and trails that don’t pose the ominous threats roads and routes in other areas often do.

Of course, we’ve still got the prospect of another day and a half here, so time for something to take the shine off yet, but so far, Czechia – you’re looking good!!!

Today’s goal is Vitonice, some 60km to the South-East of Brno, and about 20km from the border with Austria. The plan is to stop and camp somewhere there overnight, before setting off tomorrow and making our way into our second country via Znojmo. We’ll then continue in a similar South-Westerly direction to Retz, before swinging South-East again to Hollabrunn, where we’ll make camp for another night. From there, it’ll be on towards Vienna on Thursday, and, yes, hopefully a two-night stop-over to enjoy a little of what the city has to offer.

Who knows – after just three days riding rather than the seven that brought us from Bielsko-Biała to Brno, we may even find the energy to go and see that new Spiderman movie this time? 😁

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Unmooring

Biskupice to Zlechov [Part 2]: Friday 07 July 2017

Today we were washed away on a tide of rain. As the chilled rousing progressed: “It’s raining!” And then, “Kurwa!” Thunder cracked open the heavens to release the torrent. Still, eight mornings into our ‘what-exactly-is-it-they’re-doing?’ and we were much more efficient at decamping, packing, and rolling. Of course, things were still wet – there was no way they wouldn’t be – but our fear or concern about them being so was now negligible to non-existent, as long as we get an opportunity to air them at some point before making camp later.

“Are we making camp later?”

The rain was non-stop and torrential, the clothes I had chosen to wear were unsuitable: I wasn’t just getting wet, which was unavoidable, I was holding water – and getting cold. My poor decision-making in this regard heightened my misery: as an experienced runner, I am aware of how fabrics react to and interact with moisture.

I was being unnecessarily harsh, as there was no way, to my inexperienced eyes, of knowing that the weather wouldn’t turn; but when you’re in a slump, there’s a masochistic streak to pile a bit more on to make for a more immersive wallow.

And the hills – motherfucker! – the hills. The profile for today’s prospective ride looked like two Ss fallen on their sides. The climbs were interminable and steep. The descents were Alton Towers Unplugged. And part of you wondered why someone hadn’t thought to iron this part of the world flat, as, eventually, it all equalled out, anyway.

As we pushed our stubborn steeds up an unfeasibly long 12% climb, we knew we would have to review our goal for the day – both in terms of distance to cover and shelter over our heads.

If there was to be no let up in the rain, which looked wholly likely, there would be no opportunity to air the tent and let it dry out. After two hours of hardcore riding, in torrential rain, in soggy clothing (me), with malfunctioning lights (Agnieszka), the prospect of pitching a wet tent, in rain, piss wet through, stole the glints from our eyes.

This was also the fifth day in a row that we were out on the bikes, and while we had planned for six and a rest day, our green legs, combined with constant mountain terrain and, on all but one of the days, navigational distractions, roused a faint lullaby promising we’d maybe stay in a B+B this evening.

As the cold became a constant chill, I decided to put pedal to the metal and put some distance between Agnieszka and me, so that I could find time to stop and change into the more suitable attire I knew I had packed. After steaming up and into, and dashing down and through, and pushing up and out of a village or three, I paused on a peak to remove soggy layers and delve into panniers I hadn’t thought would be necessary until day’s end. As the layers came off, a bemused family of four wrestling an empty pushchair with a squeaky wheel up the hill walked by. They gawped incredulously at the half-naked middle-aged man continuing his striptease in the piss wet rain while enthusiastically blurting some sounds at them that were more akin to insanity than to the ‘good-day’ in Czech I was pitifully mimicking.

But the change of clothes was good and as we rolled into Napajedla for breakfast/lunch – all this and we still hadn’t had breakfast, even coffee – my spirits rose and my mad laughter at the ridiculousness of our situation had given way to a reasonable person’s optimism.

We enter a(nother) pretty little town that seems to consist of one main street of prettiness with, no doubt, streets branching off that lessen in prettiness as curious outsider numbers diminish. Us? Our stomachs are doing the thinking, so all we care about is finding a suitable looking place where we can keep an eye on the bikes while we refuel.

We pass a likely looking restaurant on the opposite side of the street, but decide to cruise through the town checking out the other options available.

As Sod’s Law decrees, the first one that caught our eye is the one we return to; and so we demount and cruise up to the beer garden, which is still not an option, though it seems the weather is taking a turn for the hotter and dryer. So inside it is.

Now, where to park so can have a good view of our steeds, Finkel and Einhorn? Hmm, a couple of touring bikes here that are in a great spot – good for them 😁 And here – a couple of serious touring bikes here that … with a trailer for a toddler? Ha! they look like … No! they are!

Just over 24 hours after saying farewell until who-knows-next-time? we end up in the same town, about to eat in the same restaurant as Michal and Zuza!!! Small world, ain’t it. As we gape into a window to see if there are free seats with a view of the street (and our bikes), we catch Zuza’s eye inside. She cracks up with laughter and surprise at our paths crossing again so soon.

They exit as we’re preparing to enter, and we meet as old friends; exchanging stories of where our travels had taken us since the previous day: us overnight in an orchard/allotment, them on a football pitch and therefore with access to a shower (that’s experience for you 😉).

With parking spaces occupied, we entered the restaurant, not hoping for too much – joking sardonically about opting for a tasty dish of potatoes and breaded mushrooms. As is the case almost everywhere, restaurants outside of the more built up areas clearly don’t anticipate having to cater for non-meat-eaters. Despite being only a short time in Czechia, our fare when out and about thus far had consisted, yes, of a combination of potatoes and mushrooms; prepared in different ways and always tasty, but the fact that this combination had already become an in-joke tells you, or us, all you need to know.

But variety beckoned: we opted for a Caesar Salad, with goat’s cheese instead of chicken, a side order of fried potatoes, and two half litres of Czechia’s cola-type drink, ‘Kofola!’, a delicious sugary elixir 😃 Very pleasingly rapidly, our food arrived. Caesar Salad: Lettuce? Check! Goat’s cheese? Check! Pita Bread? Check! Copious amounts of lettuce and the cheese – and that was that: not the most colourful dish I’ve ever come across. If it went to see a doctor, I think a diagnosis of anaemia would be generous.

Still, we ate it as ravenously as we consume anything containing energy or fat these days, chasing it down with two fine espressos each, before heading forwards until time for more food and rest.

Wrapped up more warmly following my impromptu striptease on the peak before the village, Sod’s Law invoked itself once again today and ordered the weather to revert to Central European mid-Summer type: dry and hot hot hot.

So, time to peel them layers off … in the Town Square/Main Thoroughfare this time. If I had the build for it, a passerby may think that I’m auditioning for a part in a Czech male strip troupe; as it is, I’m not sure where this body would go down well; though with its interesting tan patterns obtained by certain patches of skin being exposed to various levels of scorching sunlight over an entire’s day riding, I might get a part in that new film they’re not making about human jigsaw puzzles. I had wondered why someone started writing an anagram of ‘ronom’ on my arm as I dozed outside a greengrocer’s earlier. Now I know.

And with a number of maps procured from the local tourist information place detailing the numerous cycle paths and routes in the region – Czechia really is geared towards cyclists in a great way, we proceed to make our way along a beautiful path running parallel to a river, then a canal, towards Stare Mesto, literally ‘Old Town’. Is it the only old town in Czechia? I doubt it, so what gives it the honour of being able to dub itself the old town? Who knows?

But there is one more tale to tell before we actually leave this lovely little town: this day’s turning into a mini-meandering Don Quixote. As the kilometres and time between here and our previous lives increase, we discover, as we figured we would, that assumptions we made in our stationary lives regarding this journey no longer, or don’t, hold true once you are on the road; or that things you thought you’d care about are no longer that important at all, really. Most of the time it’s you yourself that has this revelation; on this occasion it was a piece of equipment that communicated this to me, in the only manner it knew how.

Following the heavy rains of the morning and early afternoon, the odometer was giving off some erratic readings all of a sudden, I noticed. Apparently, we hit a peak speed at some point today of 124.63km/h! Not bad: only a slight increase on the 51-point-something of earlier. And standing here, in the Town Square, with the device in my hand, I see we are travelling at 9.6, no! 34.2, no! 49.7, no! … blah blah blah. Oh, and we’re covering distance, too 😲

The odometer is fucked.

I now have an expensive watch and thermometer attached to my handlebars. Still, that’s one more disconnect from the assumptions of the past to allow us to focus on the here and now of the journey; and not what it means in numbers, though I did, and do, find them interesting and quite often useful: in making sure we’re not overdoing it, for example. But now, I guess, we’ll have to just listen to our bodies even more, regarding not only the direction we go, but also for how long, too. So, kind of good: the journey itself rather than expectation is taking over.

And the disconnects to things we take for granted in our stationary lives, which led to me feeling a little unmoored by the day’s end, continued. As we entered the Town of Old, in the now searing heat, we sought accommodation in a B+B pointed out to us by a kindly lady. Arriving late in the afternoon, on the second day of a national holiday, which tends to make for a long weekend for many Czechs, seeking accommodation on the spur of the moment is a little optimistic: attempt #1 – No; attempt #2 – NO; attempt #3 – NO! “Shall we just get something to eat, and camp for the night?”

“Cool.”

“This place looks OK. Let’s hang the tent out on the bikes to dry, then I’ll just check to see if they accept cards.”

Nope!

So, with empty stomachs, tired legs and tired heads, we lacked all the things we needed to revive and sustain them; things that we had taken for granted just seven days previously.

It was a stark moment on top of some other minor moments that amounted to a day of some significance.

As the tent, now rapidly completely dry under this blistering sunlight, was returned to its pack, Agnieszka went to search for a store that would accept cards to allow us to acquire vital fuel for our bodies and souls.

After one of those long short moments that we have all felt in moments of dramatic uncertainty, she returned carrying bags containing: bread, cheese, butter, nectarines, apples and grapes. And, did I miss anything?

Oh, yes, beer 😁 There’s a reason we are together.

And so we stored our precious cargo in the spaces we had available and sought out a suitable place to pitch our tent and make home for the night.

Just as we had on the previous evenings.

Yet somehow different.

~~~~~~~~~~

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