Travel Story: Winter Cyclo Touring | A frightening adventure in Poland.
Heyho fellas! How are you? Sharing an untold story.
I know people like travel posts with jaw-dropping images of outstanding destinations around the world. But, I'm a firm believer that words are capable of presenting a story better than anything else. Not that I've achieved the objective with this piece of storytelling. At least I try to believe so.
That being said, this first post of a two-part series lacks the visual appeal. The reader will understand the reason behind the lack of images. Moreover, there wasn't anything to register, apart from memories of an important dialogue I had along the way.
So, let's hop on the bicycle and go back to Kraków, the starting point of a winter bicycle adventure I did between 2018/19. This untold story happened on EuroVelo 4 towards Oświęcim in Poland, Europe.
November 12th, 2018. After a joyful few days meeting blockchain friends in Kraków, the festival was over, and everyone prepared to embark on their homrward journeys. The morning was gelid, as expected for a late fall in Poland, but the sun peeked bright behind the buildings. Remi was organizing his car to return to The Netherlands. Juergen watched, incredulous, the way I arranged my bicycle to set off on the adventure across Europe.
After spending the previous day shivering in a 39°C fever, my body was unprepared. A severe sore throat made eating difficult, whereas a minor surgery in the healing process on the index finger required care ― terrible conditions to wander around.
But… as the other adventures I had faced, there was nothing I could do other than start cycling and adapt along the way. There were no plans, no schedules, no accommodations arranged. Only a bicycle, a tent, cooking gear, and a map with Oświęcim pinned.
Roald Amundsen onde said that “adventure is just bad planning.” And what a terrible planning I had for that morning. I missed a canister of gas for the cooking stove, perhaps the most important item for survivability. So, after wandering around Kraków waiting for the shops to open at around 10 in the morning ― which they didn’t ― I moved to a faraway Decathlon store.
― Not open. Holiday today ― said a man washing his car at the parking lot.
Of course! Independence holiday, I remembered. Amidst the nonsense back and forth between closed shops, the hours passed quickly, and only by 1200 hour I hit the road.
Alongside the Vistula river, the EuroVelo 4 guided me west, for the most part on remote vicinal roads with deserted farmhouses on both sides ― everyone was sheltered I assume. The azure sky inspired me to continue. Progress was slow, painful, and soon I ran out of water. I gotta ask somewhere. I identified this young man, perhaps in his 40’s, working at his garden. I waved with the bottle in my hand.
― Do you have some water? ― I shouted from the outside. He approached and stared at me for a second or two before heading inside. After a minute he came back swaying his head.
― Are you cycle touring? ― he asked as he handled the filled bottle.
― Yeah, I’ve just started really.
― But, it’s winter time! ― he observed.
― I know, even worse when I’ve got a sore throat.
― Look ― his jaw dropped ―, do you want to come inside? Do you need medicine?
We chatted a bit, and I finally gave up and accepted the offer to eat a sandwich. The man was absolutely curious that a stranger appeared in his front yard, cyclo touring, under winter conditions. I sat at the counter table while the puzzled man prepared tea on the other side. His flawless English allowed a fluid conversation.
― You make me curious ― he started. ― The reason is because I want to cycle tour with my son. During the summer of course. How do you do it? Especially in this cold.
― Well ― I thought for a second ―, I don’t have plans. I cycle and camp and if I need help I ask.
― But where do you camp?
― Anywhere… but I prefer to ask farmers, like I did for two months in Patagonia.
― In Poland? You want to camp on a farm, in Poland?
― Yeah, as long as I leave it the way I found it should be fine.
― No, no, no. In Poland? ― he asked again.
At this moment the young man went from smiles to a serious tone, eyes staring at me, both hands placed at the counter top.
― In Poland? Do you know about the Iron Curtain?
― S-sure, I do ― I cautioned.
― About Communism? ― he continued. ― Look, I don’t advise doing it. No, no.
― Well, If I ask, what’s the problem?
― No, no. Not here ― he shook his head. ― I love your idea, I want to cycle tour myself. But old farmers are not used to having strangers camping on their land.
― See ― he interrupted ―, until some thirty years ago our country was locked. Nobody traveled here, especially the way you do. No tourists. Those farmers had lost their lands to the Communists. The problem is not you camping, it’s that they won’t accept, nor they’ll speak English. Before you can explain they’ll kick you out. If you ask younger people, like myself, you should be fine. But not the grumpy old farms. Do you get it?
― Well ― I choked ―, now that you’ve said I might reconsider.
― Please do. I absolutely support your journey, just be careful. You see this guy ― he shouted to his wife ―, he wants to camp anywhere, during the winter, in Poland!
The only option he left me was to laugh.
― You won’t believe my other stories then ― I scoffed.
― I would love to! Really. Now eat as much as you can, you don’t want to travel at night.
The young man was a champion of a friendly persona. After all, he had invited a stranger into his house, for which I’m eternally grateful. But the chattering ended up delaying my departure. I wouldn't reach Oświęcim the same day.
Worried with his horrific story about Communism times, I bore the pressure of being in the middle of Poland with the sun rushing down the horizon. I’ll have to break the promise and sleep on a farm.
To the left a swampy field offered no ground for the tent. I cycled a little further. Night fell upon me. To the right a dark forest seemed perfect, so I entered a little further to hide from the road and set the tent on an irregular terrain. Without the gas to cook, the dinner consisted of whatever I had laying around. Shortly after, I fell asleep. Then, sparse sounds of gunfire echoed. Pow-Pow.
A sudden rush of adrenaline awoke me. The vision of angry farmers made me clench the butt cheeks. Fucking hell. In complete silence, I heard the eco again, this time farther away. Pow-Pow. If they knew I’m here, they’d be here already. Pow. The sounds echoed even farther away. Or maybe they are hunting somewhere. It’s gotta be, they are hunting, silly me. I stood there in such a silence I could hear the heart beat. My eyes dropped, the sore throat kicked in. The last thing I remember is that I fell asleep again.
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~Love ya all
Disclaimer: The author of this post is a convict broke backpacker, who has travelled more than 10.000 km hitchhiking and more than 5.000 km cycling. Following him may cause severe problems of wanderlust and inquietud. You've been warned.