Claus – with all the calmness he could muster at this moment – grabbed the knob with the remaining three fingers of his left hand and pushed the door away from him. Scorching July sun made his pupils constrict instantly and at the same time droplet of sweat rolled down behind his well ironed shirt collar. Whether this droplet and those that would follow came from the high noon heat penetrating his uniform or from the fact the he just attempted what was thought to be impossible is unclear. Although the stress, only expressed by his toes convulsively curling inside his Offiziersstiefel, as he walked steadily to the car awaiting him, let believe it was the later. Only minutes separated him from all hell breaking loose and he wanted to be as far away when it happens.
He was well underway to the airport as the explosion filled the air with a blast wave. No one could survive that – he thought to himself.
It was around 1300 as the Heinkel climbed the Masurian sky. Claus’ head was full with things yet to be done. There was no turning back now, Operation Valkyrie was underway, coup d’etat mentioned to kill Hitler and overthrow his regime. Little did Claus know that in less than twelve hours a series of bullets from a firing squad’s rifles would penetrate his chest, once and for all putting an end to his conspiracy. He would no longer pose a threat for Das Tausendjähriges Reich.
His brother Berthold was not as fortunate, tried in a political court later in August he was sentenced and executed in a less humane way. Strangled with a piano wire his execution was well documented on film. Claus was long gone, but out of Berthold Hitler could make an example for other unruly officers.
We stand now in the exact spot where Claus’ first sweat drop rolled down his throat. At the very site where once the feral conference room rose from the ground. Saška, Krzysiek and me, we are in Wolf’s Liar. A series of fast bike rides and connecting dots on the map via trains led us to Mazury – the land of vast, interconnecting lakes, and once Hitler’s stronghold.
Just a few days ago me and Saška, invited by Pawel, spent a day visiting Lublin together with him and his wife Ania, eating spare ribs and Ania’s wonderful goulash (fresh dill rules!) and cake. Pawel even made a custom laptop sleeve once he saw my miserable attempt at duct taping one from a sleeping mat – it’s the first one ever and I hope not the last one. Watching Pawel at work was a pleasure.
From Lublin we catch a train to Olsztyn where we wait for Krzysiek to arrive. At night the city has a Noir feel to it with old drunken people roaming the streets, filling the dark corners with their mumble and absentminded faces. A blond woman in a short, pink skirt drags her legs down the sidewalk, spits at a hair dressers signboard, muttering in anger about deceit. Somewhere at the outskirts a man fights gravity as if he’s an astronaut forever stranded in the surface of the moon, running ouf of oxygen.
We want to be out of the city and navigate a few kilometers of singletrack running along the main road out of town to a nice camping spot hidden behind a grain field. Here it’s quiet, here it’s nice. I brew us a cup of hot tea and we fall asleep.
Once we are back in the city in the morning it’s all different. Edgar’s Ravens flee the raising sun and streets and squares get filled with young families, retired Germans sipping coffee at cafes, hikers and smooth jazz vibrating in the sweaty air. Our lazy day is filled with pancakes, nettle soup, beer and Balkan food, though it’s balkaness left a lot to be desired.
Yet even during the day one can see drunkards sitting on the benches with their faces, a clear sign that their party has recently come to an abrupt end. This is the place we should stock up on denaturated alcohol for my penny stove. I order half a liter in a grocery stove and jokingly add a loaf of bread. The woman behind the counter breaks out in laughter – back in the communism hey day bread was commonly used to filter harmful dyes out of denaturat to make it bearable to drink for alcoholics. I wonder if for some the hey day is NOW? After all, better tomorrow was yesterday… For some it’s hard to resist a well stocked shop.
In the morning we pick up Krzysiek from the train station and immediately catch a connection to Ketrzyn where I get my pants repaired waiting at the counter with just my underpants on. You really need only one pair of shorts, seriously.
Once tears are sewn up we take aim to the infamous Wolf’s Liar, Hitler’s command center. Through a series of forest and farm tracks we arrive in a spooky place full of old, desolate and collapsing concrete structures.
These are just the first and smaller quarters. Numbers 26, 27 & 28. They appear seemingly from nowhere inside a dark forest and run shivers down our backs. The actual bunkers are are further down the road. Reinforced concrete giants all bent, cracked and twisted from the huge amount of explosives used by the Germans to destroy them before the advancing Red Army could lay their hands on them.
Number 13 was Hitler’s lair. Here he slept, ate and spent his evenings listening to recordings of famous German composers. Europe melting down to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata – Adolf’s favourite.
But Mazury are not only about old Prussia, Hitler and his bunkers. More than that they will strike you with beautiful nature, rolling hills and vast fields. Riding dirt was never so simple as even tertiary roads quite often compose of gravel. Sandbox of remoteness.
For most of the time though we are not more than a day’s ride from bigger towns where we can stock up on fancy food. We eat healthy or wealthy with me performing the chef duties.
Trouts foil-baked in embers, garnished with dill sauce and garlic butter.
Embered spareribs accompanied with sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions baked with fresh mint and dill.
Sour rye soup with loads of onion fried on bakon and sausage smoked over fire. Prepared by our friend Jarek – my grandma has now a strong contender in the best rye soup category!
For breakfast we eat millet boiled in milk with honey, served with fresh bananas and vanilla yoghurt…
or apple pancakes garnished with wild strawberries and yoghurt.
Baguette with camembert cheese and cherry jam anyone?
Midday salad at Nazi HQ?
Who said bikepacking is all about energy bars, power gels and dehydrated food? Over a course of three days we are gourmet-biking. There is a lot o people who can ride faster and longer than us, but not many who dine just as fine. Fast food gets a new meaning in bikepacking, we prefer soul food shared over a bone fire whenever possible.
After a few days we get a welcome message from Jarek, our panniered friend. He and his wife Monika will join us to share the road for a couple of days. Along with their company, they will bring spare pedals for me. I’ve been riding a spindle for two days after one of the bearing got grounded into dust. Also, both me and Saška are in need of new break pads. Ours didn’t last too long after the forest encounter near Kielce.
Just before meeting Jarek and Monika we get to ride a wonderful singletrack hiking trail running first along the Hancza lake followed by the valley of Czarna Hancza river near Turtul. It’s technical, steep at times and loads of fun.
Together with our companions a heat wave arrives that’s supposed to last several days. It’s to hot to ride in the afternoon and we opt to hide our bodies in the cooling water of the many lakes and rivers we ride past.
Once the weekend arrives we are hard pressed to find quiet camping spots near lakes. Especially southern parts of Mazury are a popular tourist destinations and finding a free spot is a difficult task if not impossible when close to bigger, tourism oriented towns. We do as do Romans do, eat ice cream and swim in lakes always avoiding fenced tourist ghettos and people selling rubber toys.
Both Jarek and Monika ride with panniers, although plans already grow in their heads on how to lighten their loads. When we met Jarek two years ago he used to cycle with four panniers and an Ortlieb Rack Pack. Since then he got rid of his front panniers and is pondering design options for his bikepacking bags. Monika, looking at Saška’s setup, was completely sold on the idea of light travel as we found out from an SMS received after we parted.
Transitioning from heavy to light happens mostly in the head. We think of self-sufficiency in terms of kilograms of pasta and water we can haul at once, forgetting that these things are mostly available within a few days ride. Of course there is ultra-light and stupid-light, yet non of these are part of our intents. Traveling light is a means to and end and not an end to itself. I can see us packing more stuff and going back to panniers (although in a limited fashion) in certain scenarios. Currently we are able to carry supplies for 2-3 days when eating fancy food and twice as much in case we would resort to rice/pasta and powdered food. Together with Saška we have the capacity to carry up to 12 liters of water and there are already ideas to increase this by another 7 liters. Close to 20 liters is not bad for a pannierless pair.
With stores stocked like this, why bother carrying more than we actually need? This has been true for places like Poland, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Crimea, Ukraine.
We intend to expand on this list wherever possible and take as many souls with us as we can carry. Some say a soul weighs 21 grams, we can pack plenty of those.
Most of all we try to eat local, eat Mazury. Where else would you meet such a pair selling fresh, piping hot pierogi filled with blueberries picked in the morning?
Also, with a light bike you can impress a particular biking local kid by bunny hoping in front of a small grocery store. Getting a child to smile makes all the difference.
Ride. Smile. Eat well. Bunny hop! And to hell with all Nazis!