Ben: After some long debates about whether or not to make an extra hard push and ride all of the way to Krakow, we decided it was in our best interest. The ride was 120-130 km, but covered some steep hilly terrain as we dropped out of the high Tatras and involved a border crossing into Poland, where we had no currency. None of these things are typically a problem, though together they all add up to a long day.
The weather was great, though, and we wanted as many days as possible for our legs to recover before the beastly mountains which simultaneously draw and repel us from Norway. With that in mind, we set out up the steep hill out of Zdiar and toward the Polish border.
The border crossing went with even less fanfare than crossing the border from Utah to Idaho on I-15. The sharp mountains melted away into pine-capped hills, though, and the buildings became stretched skyward with steeply pitched roofs – a testament and reminder of the snow that dominates this landscape in the winter.
The towns were absolutely lovely and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief of being in this place with its rolling hills and beautiful towns – I didn’t expect this much awesome out of Poland. I love being pleasantly surprised.
With about 90 km to go, we met up with a highway and the traffic poured onto the road. It must have been a holiday, because the traffic grew thicker and like heavy syrup that poured slowly around us. Usually heavy traffic is annoying and even a little intimidating on roads with no shoulders, but in spite of our warnings from the Slovakian neighbors of the terrible Polish driving, we were astounded at how respectful even the trucks were being. They waited patiently as we would crest hills, and wouldn’t pass unless the opposing lane was complete clear.
The soup of traffic grew ever thicker, until it become downright annoying. Every car seemed like a fly in a swarm which grew ever more aggravating. I could hear them behind me, feel the push of wind as a truck closed in behind and then the pull of its slipstream as it passed, and see the vehicles hovering alongside Bree like the horseflies that have plagued us in the Tatras. I had to keep reminding myself that we had 4 out of wins for the day: 1) Good weather – great weather, even. 2) Great scenery – I could totally live here. 3) Really good road conditions. 4) Little to no headwind. Traffic was the only problem – so with a conscious effort we enjoyed the canyons, towns, and beautiful countryside with its ribbons of hayfields on the hillsides capped with pine forest.
We were actually glad to merge onto a freeway where we were able to enjoy our own shoulder! The police didn’t seem to like it, though. As we passed a cluster of patrol officers parked on the opposite side of the freeway they wildly gestured at Bree. I didn’t see them, and apparently totally disregarded their directions to get off at the next intersection. After Bree explained the predicament to me, all we could do is shrug and wait for them to come catch us (backtracking on a day like this was out of the question).
The police must not have really cared that much since we never saw them for the rest of the day, but just in case we decided on a more direct and bumpy route. The rest of the ride into Krakow was steep hills and drops over the rolling terrain – through small towns with the roads to ourselves. It was a beautiful ride – albeit a slow one as we pedaled straight into a storm, following the crashing of thunder and flashes of light in the distance.
Krakow came quickly, and without a lot of the grit and industrial wasteland that we are accustomed to when riding into a city. The outskirts were actually quite nice, with a lot of residential areas and big shopping centers. We wove our way through the once again heavy traffic and through the heavy rain until we hit the center of town. The tidy city is criss-crossed with a maze of light rail tracks, which always makes us a little nervous – even more so in the heavy rain.
As we were ripping through the city I must have not held a sharp enough angle to one of the tracks, because in a flash my front wheel was sliding out from under me and I was on my side sliding across slick, sandy pavement and railroad tracks. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic, but my impulse to clear out of the road quickly took over. After surveying the damage, I had lost a non-trivial amount of skin, was all scratched up, a few bruises on the hip, and some minor cuts on my leg where I took the brunt of my fall. Mostly, though, I was totally humiliated.
With the crash all of our inertia went down the drain, and we enjoyed a pleasant (though accompanied by the friendly sting of my injuries) roll through the rest of town until we arrived at our campsite on the edge of town.
* Took a lesson from the Slovenian hay farmers and covered our laundry line in a hope to have some dry clothes (literally all of them except for my swimsuit are on this line)
* Check out my cool new headband that I made myself. Ironic that I use a reindeer headband to keep the sweat of my eyes.