Days better than others: Zwardon to Makow Podhalanski

Some days you hear a voice  
Taking you to another place
Some days are better than others

How to grasp riding in a climate so different than the one I got used to those days. Unforgiving heat that I’m soaking up with all of myself while pushing a 35 kg hog up the hillside of Wielka Racza… warm nights on the hills, no light pollution and crystal clear skies dotted with a matrix of stars and galaxies roaming above our heads. Fire, sausage, an orchestra of beetles, crawlers, crickets and other instruments listened to in new but somehow familiar company.

On Friday me and Marcin took the train to Zwardon. For me it was supposed to be the begining of something longer, for him the moment where everyday tensions give way to increased heart rate on climbs and an adrenalin rush on the descents – he doesn’t seem to have breaks fitted on his bike.

In Zwardon we meet Nick i Lael, who are traveling accross Europe since a couple of months. It just happened that we where more or less in the same spot at the same time, heading in a similar direction. Some e-mails were exchanged and we opted for sharing one trail for a bit.

The first night is spent just above Zwardon, where we find a suitable camping spot. As a bonus we wake up to find the sweetest raspberries we ever had growing right next to our tents. Small as a pinkie nail, but packed full of flavor – you could fill a whole pack of market bought fruit with it and you would still have some of it left.

We pack up slowly, having been woken up be the morning heat striking our tents. The yellow stream soaks our skin relentlessly and the steep climb ahead of us doesn’t make it any easier. It is with some disbelief that we watch Nick and Lael climb section me and Marcin only face with our heads pointing to our feet, hands grasping handlebars. Pedals on one side we push.
Sometimes we catch up just to find them relaxing in the shade smiling.

High noon is spent sheltered by the walls of the mountain hut on top of Wielka Racza. Chance for a cold shower, cool beer, gazing at the landscape and chatting.

Once the sun eases up we head out. Ahead of us is the red trail leading along the ridge line to the hut below Wielka Rycerzowa. Some great riding downhill through forests and meadows. We share smiles on every stop, and each one of those smiles says one thing: great!

It’s late evening when we pitch our tent at the hut, Nick and Leal decide to sleep out this night. There are showers and beer at hand. We discover that Nick and Lael are very fond of kapusta kiszona (fermented cabbage), they enjoy it with some onion and sausage – all heated up nicely on Nick’s handmade meths stove.

The night is hot again and the skies are open. We sit, stand and lay catching a glimpse of the light long gone since millions of years. Time to rest, time to enjoy some music sparsely interrupted by a nearby stag-party. We have our own.

Next day it’s time to say goodbye, Nick and Lael want to attend to some work and are looking for a quite place to do so. Apart of writing his own blog, Nick is contributing to the Bunyan Velo e-zine – worth every second spent reading it.

As for me and Marcin we decide to continue along the blue trail leading to Glinka Pass. It is quite soon that we discover our choice was not an easy route. The first climb is plain evil, it literally stomps us down. Ahead of us theres a couple hundred meters uphill and it seams nearly vertical to us. Shoes slide down the pepper dry soil and after reaching what was half way up I give up… Not being able to push any further I’m taking down all my bags and the front wheel I carry everything up the hill in two movements. It seems we loose most of our energy for the day to make this climb-a-bike.

Yet there’s some great riding ahead of us now, a thank you for our struggle.

If someone was to propose this route again I’d scratch my head and head down the yellow trail as Nick and Lael did… straight to the town of Ujsoly where a blue trail leads to Hala Lipowska. This knowledge costs calories, but that we would only discover the next day. For now we enjoyed the long downhill along paved roads. No brakes were used.

In Ujsoly we grab some evening beers and fermented cabbage juice branded Kacus (Hangover). Half a liter each. After drinking we wonder if the expiration date was the 8th of February or (better) 2nd of August. The next few minutes would shed some light on that.

Somehow beaten up we head out to find a suitable camping spot, which we eventually find not far from our trail. Moods are high.

The night wasn’t calm anymore. Already at dusk we can see some lighting in the distance but we leave our vestibules open. In the middle of the night we are surprised by a thunderstorm and there’s nothing left to do but to zip up our tent leaving the excess material flapping aroung in the rain. Before I fall asleep I count the second between each lighting and thunder… 101, 102, 103… that’s close enough!
We wake up to find the meadow slowly giving away its moisture to the sun. Having had a small breakfast we opt to eat something more substantial somewhere along the way. There’s kapusta, onions and sausage rattling in our bags… sometime you need someone from outside to recognize a simple yet delicious meal that was there all the time.

The blue trail can be described as one great climb. And by great I mean fun. Most of it is but the initial push is ridable. It must be one of the best climbs I’ve experienced so far.

We brake for some food in the Hala Lipowska mountain hut and get some great pancakes with white cheese and jam. All embellished with great service by the ladies running the show – one can feel the heart of mountains beating in this place inviting those drawn to it.
Blue is the color of our descent from Rysianka.

The path is as double at first, gently flowing down. We let ourselves go and I guess this costs me a cut tyre and nice big puncture… my Nemesis from now on. I grab my spare for now and after pumping up the fatty we roll again for the town of Korbielow. Further down the blue trail gets really difficult and technical , narrow and full of stones and roots. I struggle and so does Marcin on his full suspension bike. Once there’s a chance to take a dirt road detour we hit it dashing to the nearest shop and then for the Glinne Pass at the Polish-Slovakian border where we make camp. It seems we pitched our tent in a way that Marcin slept in Poland and myself in Slovakia.
Evening is for attending to the punctured tube… for the first time. Tomorrow it will last only for a couple hundred meters into Slovakia. I grab for my 29er spare and patch it again… just in case.
The spare didn’t like that idea and literally blew out leaving a big tear and no illusions. I take out my freshly patched tube.

It’s only a couple of kilometers into the blue trail in the Kohutova Valley where I have a feeling somethings on. Not waiting for it to surprise me in the middle of a sun burnt road I take the first path leading to the dried out riverbed, there’s only a small stream flowing there right now. Long awaited shadow, ice cold water help the mood. I put my bike upside down and go for a bath. It doesn’t take long for the tube to deflate completely and this time I let Marcin take care of things with a monstrous double patch. Small one on the puncture and another one – the size of a child’s fist – on top of that. I slowly inflate… it sticks… bit more pressure… it sticks… even more air… it sticks. Let’s roll! It sticks, a bit more air… Don’t overdo it! It sticks.

We gain good karma along with vertical meters, having a great trail as our companion. Worn out tarmac into dirt road into forest into trail. All perfectly bikeable. Krowiarka Pass here we come!

The recent problems must have been the reason for finding the best camping spot so far. Big meadow with freshly cut grass hidden in the forest. Our private ground for the night, yet so close to civilization, so close to the nearest place with beer.

We spend the rest of the evening strolling around our meadow talking this and that. All happy. Especially Marcin, for the cut grass made for a great hay bed – a welcome change after having slept all those nights on a whimpy alumat.

Makow Podhalanski is our bearing the next morning, tens of kilometers, all down. Makow is a strange little town or maybe it’s just the aura of the no longer in use train station building…

… it seems to attract all kinds of originals. The cat lady…

…and the elderly man who doesn’t want to chat with us, but brings me my cap and helmet which I forgot to take.

Marcing travels home, so do I… not to retreat… think rather… regroup. For I still can hear that voice taking me to another place.



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