Things can go fast. One day we wake up in Slovenia with all our belongings stuffed in the car and just a handful of hours later we fall asleep in a different bed, in Poland.
Things can also go painfully slow. With possessions misplaced, turned up side down and in side out, it is hard to just pack your bike and go. We spend a few days reorganizing, setting up bikes and helping out at home. Weather is wet and grey so there’s no rush, yet both me and Saska have this feeling under our skin. Move on…
Unlike the skies our goals are clear. Head east and take as many hostages as we can. Having exchanged some e-mails with Pawel from BikePack we agree to meet up in Stalowa Wola, Krzysiek is bound to meet us in the same spot. Furthermore I have planned a pay a visit to Karol a long time no see friend who just happens to live and work in Stalowa. Riding there from Belchatow shouldn’t take us more than 3 days with generous amounts of dirt touring.
Waiting out the rains we leave on Sunday, late into the morning – almost touching noon. Looking at recent weather it’s a sunshine bonanza as the only heavy shower catches as during a shopping session in one of the villages along the way.
There is no real path that guides us. I’ve merely made a long straight line connecting Belchatow to Stalowa Wola on my GPS. We will be interpolating our way through dirt roads north and south of that violet line reaching in the distance. Getting lost is part of the plan.
Summer starts in Poland with green crops, festivals and ice cream stands sprouting in and between villages. Wild poppy and cornflowers abound.
Mostly we are navigating fields and forests but one particular river crossing provided some serious entertainment. Made out of scraps of wood this bridge officially serves as a technical crossing for farmers (tourist use at own risk, DO NOT WIGGLE).
Almost made me loose my bike in the river’s current. Saska although impressed by the lack of stability finds a spare hand to film her crossing while I wait close to the bank, just in case.
Leaving Lodzkie voyoidship we enter Swietokrzyskie, meadows slowly grow into gentle waves of green, hillsides grow in the distance hour by hour. We get literary sucked into one particular forest north of Kielce. At the map I saw an official PTTK trail, red in color. In reality we had mud, red in color. The trail got destroyed by heavy logging to the point where it was unusable, and by it looks so it was. With every minute the canopy hung thicker and lover above our heads – signs of years of neglect. We opt the hike-a-bike to the nearest service road just to find out it is just as bad and soon it also disperses into thick woodland. We follow the thin black line on my GPS, the terrain is a mix of swampy grassland and boggy sand that has long made it’s way into our breaks. At one point we cross the red trail we abandoned, it’s nowhere to be seen. Only after looking closely I see markings on trees deep in the forest, but no trail. Navigation errors were taken into account was planned, but this one drained plenty of energy from us. Once we reach a proper gravel road I looks back at the forest we just escaped, lift my right hand and extend one of my fingers in a salute to the trails long gone. By the time we were finished with pushing, our break pads were long gone.
Last push to Stalowa Wola is a wet, fast day of riding paved roads. From quiet tetriary roads we flow into more busy arteries as we near the city. The closer we get to our goal, the closer the cars are passing our elbows. Riding without a hard shoulder makes me mad and all that rage I turn into pure Watts of pedalling power – I want this to finish, fast.
In town we learn that Krzysiek cannot join us now but will be back on the road to join us further up north the next week. Pawel arrives next morning on his Giant Anthem 29er carrying custom bikepacking luggage. He is designer, workhorse and tester behind the BikePack brand. Although he works for a small workshop situated just behind his bedroom he made hundreds of bags and sent them as far away as New Zealand. His company was supporting bikepacking events like the Welsh Bear Bones 200 and are the bags of choice for many British bikepackers. Recently his gear was featured in Polish BikeBoard magazine. When he is not busy thinking about expanding his workshop he is riding his bike like he means it. Apart of this he loves his wife and opens lets his cats out as they please.
Roztocze is Pawel’s playground and he knows a thing or two where to go and what is best to skip. We willingly follow his lead. Starting with Lasy Janowskie we ride into Roztocze.
Lasy Janowskie extend from Borów at Vistula river in the west to the town of Bilgoraj in the east. Part of a bigger Solska Wilderness. Once place of heavy resistance of Polish and Russian partisans against German forces during WWII. Polish activity in this area made it virtually uncontrollable for the Nazis. It was in these forests where around 3.000 partisans armed mainly with rifles, machine guns and mortars fought against 30.000 well equipped soldiers and tank battalions supported by artillery and air divisions. Operation Hurricane (Sturmwind) was meant do destroy resistance units operating in Solska Wilderness.
Sturmwind I carried out on the 14th of June 1944 was a huge fail for the German Army. The Polish forces, heading south, were able to escape the encirclement while loosing only 120 men, at the same time the Germans suffered more than 500 casualties.
Following into the partisans’ footsteps we ride into Roztocze.
Sturmwind II started in 21st of June with heavy shelling of partisan positions, then the ground troops advanced. In the aftermath the Polish Home Army units supported by Russian partisans were crushed during 4 days of fighting. Those who were unable to escape the encirclement made their last stand in a swampy area between Tanew and Sopot rivers. Stories are told about bodies being recovered as late as 1970 during logging. Men tied to a tree with a belt, last hope of survival.
Now only tombstones and memorials remain to commemorate these times. The forest is full of life and breathing. In some places it has even been turned into an art gallery.
We sit at a small grocery store sipping beer and cooling ourselves with ice cream, when suddenly a cyclist dashes down the road. A minute later we see the same bearded man coming back and asking about our bikes. His name is Andrzej from Zwierzyniec, the place where we camped just the other night. He went out on a ride with his Surly Ogre to enjoy his backyard for a day. He talks fast in excitement. He can’t believe his eyes and wants to make sure we really have 29+ tires. Andrzej is waiting for his own pair of 3” wheels once the ECR frameset arrives at his doorstep. A quick look at the map and a glimpse in his eyes tell us we will be riding together for the day. Although sporting thinnish semi-slick tires Andrzej doesn’t shun local dirtroads. It’s great to have a second local guide. Pawel and Andrzej often discuss options on where to go and what to show us.
Riding through old forests Andrzej tells us stories of times long gone. Now eastern frontier Poland, this was once part of Central Poland. Almost each service road crossing bears a story to tell, marked by small signs to graves, memorials or industrial buildings that have been devoured by the green long ago.
When we get enough of dirt riding we go to Jozefow for a portion of traditional hand made ice cream.
Once our time in Roztocze is gone we escort Pawel to Lublin, stopping along the way in Zwierzyniec where Andrzej is living. We meet his wife Teresa who is currently busy with organizing a rock festival and their quite daughter Krystyna. Looking at her rockin’ she’s definitely daddy’s little girl.
Roztocze is green, beautiful, colorful, it’s quiet with traffic and loud with wildlife, but most of all it’s fun to ride. Go and see for yourself.
From big forest roads to small river trails, soft-crashing on sandy downhills, jumping over stones and roots. Great wild camping is abound in the area. This kind of Poland will be gone, sooner or later. Catch it while you can. Go east!