22/08/2010 - 25/08/2010
I'd had a great time in Pila, but was ready to get going - Warsaw was still a frustrating 450km away, though it felt like it should be round the corner. I'd programmed in the route we planned to Bydgoszcz - now it was time to see if it was actually suitable.
The first part of the day, I was still following the R1, mainly down some small country lanes. While it didn't look like there were any hills, there were several ups and downs, the effort of slaving up the hill pulling the weight of me, the bike and the luggage, rewarded by a swift dash downhill, only then to repeat the experience, just as a kid goes up and down a hill sledging in winter.
As the landscape opened up, dozens of dragonflies buzzed around me, joining me for several kilometres of the journey. I made sure I kept my mouth firmly shut - we all know what happened to the old woman who swallowed a fly, and I didn't want to find out what happened to the cyclist who swallowed a dragonfly.
Most of these roads were very quiet with only the occassional passing car. But for anything busier I'd made some attempt to improve my safety a couple of days back. Soon after arriving in Poland I decided I needed to ensure I was more visible. A high-visibility jacket would be a nuisance to wear, and uncomfortable, but make me a lot safer. The problem was finding one, and in the first town I stopped in, there was little more than little shacks selling second hand clothes and shoes, and a discount German supermarket. The supermarket wasn't very big, but I decided to check anyway, these chains being renowned for always stocking completely random things, and sure enough, there amongst the clothes pegs and drawing pads was a 'high-visibility pack'. No jacket, but better - I now have a clip on belt to strap round my stomach, an arm band, and some stickers for my rear bumper.
A couple of hours in and it was time to leave the comfort of the signposts that I'd been following since I first crossed the North Sea at The Hague. Turn right for Warsaw. Before I did, I detoured up to the main road to find some lunch, and then because it was so close, I just had to go to Bagdad. A tiny hamlet of about three houses, and no fridge-magnet shop or even a kebab shop called 'U Saddama', the surroundings were all a little too green and lush.
So how did the unknown route pan out? Most of the way, it was great. Asphalt for the majority, and some of it brand new, and I could really whizz along. But then all of a sudden I felt like I actually had arrived in Baghdad. Sand! I tried cycling through it, occasionally succeeding in going 100 metres, but that was luck. Usually I'd just wobble and start to tip over. Even pushing the bike through it was like treacle. Then it would look shallow enough to try cycling again, but soon there'd be a random pothole underneath to sink into.
Fortunately, these streches only lasted a few kilometres in total, and I made it to Bydgoszcz after 110 km. However, getting to Karolina and Dawid's flat, where I was staying the night, added on another unexpected 10. They lived just the other side of the canal... but despite being within the city limits, bridges crossing the canal were extremely scarce. The weather had been kind to me all day, but I just caught the start of the evening rain that was to turn into a thunderous storm during the night. Apparently. I slept through it completely.
The next day and I was off to Torun, home of gingerbread and Copernicus. I stopped in Bydgoszcz town centre for a breakfast of waffles and ice-cream (well, why not?!), and then looked for the rural route to Torun. There was apparently a marked route, but who knew what it was like? Certainly it must be preferable to the two main roads, the only alternatives.
Again, I'd programmed what looked like the most viable route into my GPS, and weaved my way out of town towards the northern bridge. However, I obviously hadn't done a very good job of it, as I found myself suddenly on the sidde of one of Poland's rare expressways, a dual carriageway with central barrier so there was no turning round. I had no choice but to continue, and my sat nav was telling me to turn left after nearly a kilometre. This ws an abrupt turn into the forest, but the track it had marked didn't match the realities of the tracks on the ground. I was now basically lost - I could follow my nose through the forest, or head back to a fast highway that would take me in the wrong direction for who knows how long. I chose the forest. It wasn't fast-going along the bumpy tracks, but at least they were only rarely muddy, and no sand. I was relieved to find my way out after about 20 minutes. I then soon saw a sign for the marked Bydgoszcz-Torun route, and decided to follow those wherever possible and treat my electronic device with the contempt and mistrust it had earned.
As with the day before, the route was mostly on good asphalt roads, but it was the sections that weren't that really made the day difficult, and today was a short one at only 65km. Long sandy sections through the forest were made worse simply by not knowing how soon you'd be out of it, and whether there were any better choices to make. Each time you emerge from it back onto easy road, you hope that it will be plain-sailing from here on, but it inevitably isn't. The worst was a kilometre section of basically a building site, with small sharp stones piled up across the length of the road. There was no diversion, or even any indication of the roadworks in advance. To go back and try another possible sandy path would have been 5km just back to the last junction. I tried to cycle over the stones but with little luck, and was again pulling my load not knowing how far I would have to do this. Eventually I emerged through, and soon after had a choice - continue through the forest, or pop onto the main road, aka Suicide Alley. Drained, I chose the main road.
I spent the afternoon in Torun firstly in the Tourist Information office, trying to fnid out about recommended onward routes to Warsaw. Basically, there weren't any. To the next town, Wlocwawek, there was a choice of suicide or sand again. Beyond that, they couldn't tell me anything; it was outside their region and I'd have to ask in Warsaw. They didn't seem to grasp the irony that once I'd got to Warsaw, the information would be completely reduntant. So with the help of some map and phone calls, I plotted my own roundabout route to Plock, and on to Warsaw. I spent the rest of the afternoon with a beer in the pleasant main town square. Despite threatening to, the rain stayed away - I ended up not using my coat once on the bike in Poland. Knowing how everyone has been complaining about the weather across Europe, I've not done badly to avoid it on the whole.
In the evening, when she was back from work, I went round to Joanna's house, my tenth couchsurfing host I think. We walked back into town for some pancakes and a beer, and she showed my round the town. I'd been here before with my Dad for a day or two, but she took me to some interesting out-of-the-way places with unusual histories; if ever she needs a career change, she's got an obvious talent as a tour guide!
Still 250km to go, I planned to be in Warsaw in two days - am ambitious target when I had never intended doing over 100km/day, and 120km was my longest so far. But despite raining every night, the days were dry, and I hoped to be on good surfaces for the rest of the way, with or without trucks and maniacs skimming past me whisker-close. I set off early - on the road before 8am. On the way to Plock, I put in 70 km before I stopped for lunch, with only two brief roadside pauses for banana and chocolate fuel. If there was anything much of note about the landscape or area, I didn't notice it; I had my head down, concious of the distance. The afternoon was harder, slower going. I divided it into two 30km stretches, hoping for a cafe or bar at the midway town. Approaching it, my knees were starting to complain, and I had to go slower and slower, crawling into Dobrzyn nad Wisla to find little more than a mini-market and some park benches. With no shame, I lay down on one of the park benches, and promptly fell asleep. I'd intended to rest for half an hour at the most, but before I knew it, I'd been there a full hour and it was time to crack on... 32km to go. Fortunately, the knees had accepted the rest, and I reached Plock soon after 6pm, my final Couchsurfing host, Kamila, waiting for me with a welcome meal.
We popped into town to see the sunset over the river, and have a drink in the town square, but I couldn't stay awake long. I had 120km to pedal to reach Warsaw, and I wasn't sure I could manage that again. In the morning I woke to sunshine, but howling winds. Oh well, nothing for it.
First job was to get across the river. The route looked obvious - there were 2 bridges, one nearby and one a few kilometres back, so I picked the obvious route and cycled round to it. When I got to the approach road, I realised that it was a busy dual carriageway. Kamila had told me there was a bike lane on the bridge, but it appears not to exist on the 2 km leading up to it, and there was no pavement. There was some wasteland along side, and I saw a path running through that, so decided to take it. Naturally, though, the path soon turned into a dirt track, then sand, then simply nothing at all - I was cycling over rough grassy thorny terrain. I was no longer alongside the main road as it was down a steep embankment, so I perservered as I was still heading towards the bridge. Eventually, the road got closer to me again, and with no sign of the path returning, I scrambled down what was left of the embankment, lifting the bike over a couple of ditches, and onto the narrow hard shoulder. As the bridge got closer, the hard shoulder disappeared, and I was now cycling in the main carriageway, traffic zooming past at terrific speeds. And then the bike line appeared from up a ramp... but it was on the other side of a barrier. I had to decide, carry on moving and get across as fast as I can, or stop still in the carriageway and get across. With a small break in the traffic, I decided on the latter, and threw my luggage over the barrier, then jumped across myself before reaching back to lift the bike across to safety.
The wind was harsh on the bridge, and continued to blow all day. But to my very good fortune, for the most part it was blowing me due east. Pedalling to Warsaw was, quite literally, a breeze. At times, I could take myself up shallow inclines in top gear at nearly 30km/hour with little effort, and I quickly put the distance behind me. On the down side, approaching the capital meant that I was facing some of the busiest roads of the whole journey. In sections this was unavoidable, but for the majority of the day I found quieter roads that were acceptable.
I stopped for lunch at Zelazowa Wola, the birthplace of composer Chopin, where I'd remembered there was a cafe that served acceptable food. Unfortunately, all they served now were microwaved hamburgers and ice-cream. There was nothing in the vicinity ahead, so the alternative was to go back a few kilometres to the last town, Sochachew. So I had microwaved hamburger and ice cream, and sat outside in the howling gale but beaming sun.
I was down to the last 50 kilometres! I knew from experience that this road was busy and not particularly wide. But a good statistician will tell you that as I hadn't died on the first 27 days of the trip, the chances of me dying today were therefore zero. I am effecively immortal. Still, I had my hi-vis belt on to be sure. However, I did get somewhat sick of the cars passing quite so close (the worst were the ones from the opposite direction, overtaking another car), and I was cycling alongside the Kampinos forest with a marked cycle trail, so I detoured to check it out. The first 500 metres were promising, but guess what? It soon developed into think sand. I ended up pushing my bike most of 3 kilometres before deciding that Suicide Street was preferable, at least unless I intended camping the night.
The last 10-15 km into Warsaw had a brick-paved cycle path/footpath running alongside, and I alternated between keeping out of the way of the traffic, and enjoying the smooter surface of the road. The bricks themselves weren't too much of a problem, but the frequent driveways and entrances meant constantly bouncing up and down, and it was quite wearing. Still, better than sand. And then it approached. In the middle of a huge set of roadworks (which have been there for at least the last 3 years), a sign announced that I had arrived at the city limits. And this, about 5 minutes shy of exactly four weeks since setting off from Greenwich. I pedalled on in, cycle lanes most of the way. Nothing like the ones I'd got used to in Holland or even Germany, but there nonetheless. In the distance I could see iconic landmarks like the Palace of Culture which dominates the Warsaw skyline. I headed in to the old town, and stopped for something proper to eat, and a rest before heading down towards my flat on the other side of the centre. I cycled down past the Presidential Palace, where police try to calm protestors squabbling over an infamous memorial cross that has so dominated Polish news for the last few weeks. Then down Nowy Swiat and through Centrum and Marshalkowska to Plac Konstitucji, where a stage has been erected, banners fly, fireworks are set off, TV crews await and cameras flash from the throngs of adoring fans waiting to catch a glimpse of me. Or not. Round the corner is my flat, and below it is a cafe/bar. Here I meet some friends who have been encouraging me on through the journey; who laughed when I first suggested I might do this, and were as surprised as I was that I had now made it. Two thousand two hundred kilometres on two wheels. I'd done it.
Now, what's next?
A few stats and facts
- punctures: 0
- brake pads replaced: 1
- minor adjustments to brakes: 5
- minor adjustments to gears: 2
- That's it.
- If I'd taken the main roads with no diversions, I cycled far enough to get to Kiev, Ukraine
- If all the uphills I did were joined together at the start of the journey, I'd get above most commercial aircraft at 30,000 feet. Think of the downhill after that!
- Nights paid for: 14
- Free accommodation: 14
- Injuries: 0
- Times fell off bike: 1
- Close shaves with traffic: 6
- Close shaves outside Poland: 0