It has been following us around for a few days now, but the shattering exhaustion from high paced sightseeing in Romania followed by a series of big cycling days has finally overtaken us. Our legs are devistatingly tired, yes, but it is more than that too. I’m physically run down, my mind fixated on the next time I’ll be able to lie down. I’m chafed and scabbed from riding in sweaty, humid conditions and the thought of sitting on my bicycle for even a minute seems just cruel. I’m emotionally run down too. We’re days behind with photos and journaling and my desire to write down another word has dried up and blown away.
Homesick isn’t something I’ve really ever been, but after being away for weeks with little to no real outside conversation (beside each other of course), I start longing for my real life with people I care about instead of telling every random stranger the same thirty second spill about how we’re riding bicycles from Greece to Finland and yes, we’re all the way from the United States.
All of this tiredness was practically pinning me to the floor of my tent when we woke up this morning, but knowing that days go better when we start early, we lumbered out of the tent and hit the road. We scrapped our original plan to tackle another 60 mile day, so with only 30 miles in queue, I was at least hopeful that we might survive the day.
Our handy GPS promised us an “off the highway” route, so against our better judgement I followed Ben away from the highway and up into the hills behind town. The roads transitioned from pothole ridden pavement to gravel to dirt and finally to a weedy, overgrown double track that disappeared into the hillside. All of this took us through neighborhoods and then past countryside houses, where a lovely old woman was climbing out of her car. She looked strikingly like my grandma, and as I passed she waved, smiled, and told me something in Hungarian (in hindsight, she was almost assuredly telling us that the road we were on was about to end!). The encounter reminded me that this time last year, we’d been in Idaho visiting my grandparents on our way to Washington state. We had such a nice time and my cute Grandpa sent us boxes of treats for the trip home. I fervently wished we were there with them instead of here by ourselves, in the middle of nowhere Hungary, but it didn’t help. Instead, we followed the trail until it became impassable and we were forced to retrace all of our offroad riding and begin again.
Round two was a bit more successful and after a few minutes of riding on the highway fighting the leftover headwind from yesterday, we hit a junction. Since we were taking a short day anyway Ben thought it might be nice to take an alternate route through the hills that would pass by a national park and a cave instead of hanging on the flat, windy highway.
Though my legs were not totally on board with choosing hils, pedaling small roads (assuming they are real roads and not horse trails) is almost always worth the effort, so off we went toward the cave. About two minutes later, my resolve was tested when we discovered some apparent flooding, leaving an eight inch deep river running across the road. We looked at each other and then forged ahead, although even as I sped up to cross, I knew the endeavor was going to leave me with a case of dreadfully wet feet.
This incident repeated itself twice more, just to be sure my shoes were good and sloshy before we rolled into a tiny town with a concerning sign indicating that the way we intended to go was closed. The signs looked terribly permenant, so we rolled back and forth, checking all of them to be sure that it really meant what it looked like.
We must have looked particularly baffled or at least lost, because a nice guy on the street came to our aid, miming that we could still go that way if we didn’t mind getting off to push the bikes for a little bit. I was still wildly unclear about what this was going to entail, but my other options involved taking an unknown detour (no doubt adding miles and hills to our plan) or riding back through the road rivers, so we kept on.
As I’d feared, the road turned to hard-packed dirt within minutes, but compared to the roads in Romania, this one still wasn’t all that bad. At a gentle grade, we slowly rolled up the unsealed road, taking in vast valleys of vibrant green grass and patches of forest along the way. Just as I was starting to think that we’d just encountered the world’s tidiest bit of road construction, we heard sounds of a dump truck. When we rounded the bend, a huge backhoe was loading huge shovelfuls of debris into the line of dump trucks waiting to haul the rocks away. The road beyond the digging sight looked like a giant had gouged through the clay soil with a fork.
The backhoe was working with such force that we didn’t dare skirt around it for fear of getting a spray of rocks dumped on our heads, so we waited until the truck he was filling was full before heading his direction.The road was completely impassible, so we got off to push, heaving the bikes through the furroughs of soft earth while the workers watched, amused.
The mess lasted for a few hundred meters until things finally got stable enough we could get back on and continue our dusty ride. Thankfully, the summit was near, and once we reached the top, the terrible road on the other side rattled us hard as we rolled down the other side.
From there, a series of gentle hills, meadows, villages, and forests kept us company all the way into the national park. Ben told me that today would be “easy” but with both of us suffering from impressively severe cases of chafing and worn out legs, it was pretty slow going. A few hours later, we arrived into the park where we found a busy parking lot leading up to the cave.
We’d spent all but a few dollars worth of our Forint yesterday in anticipation of hitting the Slovakian border, so once Ben verified that they’d accept our credit card for a cave tour, we bought tickets and then settled into a picnic table to wait our turn. I ate pretty much everything in sight while Ben sorted pictures and soon, we were suited up in our winter gear for a trip through the cave.
The tour was pretty much what you could expect from a cave tour which was held in Hungarian and had little to no supervision. We spent the better part of an hour lagging behind the group snapping pictures and talking with an Australian couple as the mob pressed on through the caverns. As the group would pass through the lights would turn off in the previously visited section of the cave – a clear indicator that they were not going to wait for us and that we better catch up.
According to the literature, here are the things we might have seen had we understood Hungarian and been within earshot of the tour guide: Evidence of mankind’s existence in the cave 7000 years ago with smoke residue on the cavern ceiling. Fossils in one corridor of sea creatures from an ancient seabed. Some bats or other cave life such as pigment-less newts that live in the underground pools. We saw none of it – but it was still pretty cool.
For me, the highlight of the tour was the lovely Australian couple we met in while we walked (It is always so exciting to find another English speaker!). They were here on a bit of a land tour, away from their sailboat which they left in Croatia. It was so lovely to have a conversation that lasted for more than two minutes and that didn’t involve even a shred of miming.
Back on the road, my saddle sores were loudly protesting. Almost immediately, we crossed the unmanned Slovakian border and then we had only fourteen kilometers until the town where we planned to sleep. Knowing I was running out of energy, Ben kept encouraging me by telling me it was “all downhill from here!” despite the fact that the roads just kept climbing. Equal parts amused and disappointed, I banned him from telling me anything about the terrain except simply how much of it we had left to go. We counted down until we arrived at an inexpensive guesthouse, complete with a kitchen where we tucked in for another long night of work, journals, and route planning.