Tour of  Croatia 2004  

At the beginning we share the luggage among us so that everyone takes the same amount. Each one is going to carry 25 kilograms, placed in front and rear sacks. We also divide the duties. Piotr is responsible for planning the whole route, luckily he chooses the shortest possible way, plus he is going to translate and communicate for us. Wojtek is our pacesetter, he is going to provide relief for Sławek when his knees fail (as it turns out later they exchange their duties in that matter). Sławek also designs and prints our cards plus he is our medical staff during the journey.

Day 1.

We leave Lubsko at 6.30 am. Our parents give us a warm goodbye and take some photos. We head for the border in Zasieki-Forst so that later on we use the bicycle road to Zgorzelec, the path only exists on the German side and so far there is not such a road in Poland. In BrodyPiotr says goodbye to his girlfriend –Lidia, and now the real journey begins, the kind of journey which makes you more homesick with each turn of the wheels. The weather today is not pleasant at all. It is raining all the time making the ride more demanding but we bravely manage to ride 168 kilometers. Our stage goes through Zgorzelec and Zawidówand later we reach Hejnice in Czech Republic and quickly find a place for the night there, plus there is one funny situation, one lady declined our request for a place to sleep because a dog will bite us (translator’s note: Polish and Czech languages are similar but sound funny for their native speakers). We wash in a nearby creek.

Day 2.

The breakfast was prepared on a tourist cooker, and the nice lady, our host today, gave us a jar of honey from her beehives. We leave the place and soon there is a 13 kilometers long strech to climb up and the peak is at 1100 meters above the sea level.. Now, everyone is riding at his own pace and speed; so: Wojtek with his 26 inch wheels and 26 kilo luggage is speeding like a devil, he overtakes a professional – looking cyclist  who on the top of the mountain gets shocked and congratulates him on his stamina. Piotr and Sławek are also riding very fast but they reach the top 20 minutes later. Later on, we have a wonderful experience which is a crazy 15 kilometers long, downhill ride, sometimes our speed exceeds 60 km/h. Then we go to Tanvald and later on to Turnov, we are bypassing Liberec along with the highway. It is Sunday and we are running out of bread, luckily we spot a bakery. Piotr is negotiating the price with a young baker and pays 20 Crowns instead of 50 for two big loaves of bread with caraway. The taste of the bread is different from the one we are accustomed to but still it is really tasty. The weather is sunny, the landscape is changing from mountains to plains we are bypassing the Prague and go to Mlada boleslav and Cesky Brod, then we get lost and even the locals cannot help us for a very simple reason, the road we are riding simply does not exist on the map, so this is a complete loony house (in the Polish language such a situation is called “a Czech movie” when nobody knows anything and there is complete chaos). We decide to look for place to spend the night, after many failed attempts there are people who agree to put us up and serve delicious supper.

Day 3.

We all have enough of it. The only thing that keeps us going is that we are close to our final destination. We all are suffering form knee ache. Sławek has a breakdown – the rear axle simply falls apart, luckily we have a replacement and quickly fix the problem. We stop in Benesov where we buy another axle and front gear for him. People turn out to be helpful again and an old lady, standing on the balcony, asks where are we going and if we need anything, we take only water and go our way. We sleep in an orchard near to České Budějovice.

Day 4.

At last we cross Czech – Austrian border. And head for the famous Linz. The landscape changes, and the roads are full of signs that makes finding direction a lot easier. Wonderful views, and the roads for bicycles are just everywhere. There is one more difference - nobody here is looking at us as if we are some kind of aliens from the outer space, bicycle tourism is something ordinary here. Piotr has a flat tire, we have to buy the inner tube at a local shop, we have to pay three times more than in Poland. Having crossed Linz we stop for the night, and  sleep rough, under a bridge. It is raining, but such conditions are nothing for our Crosso sacks (which are water proof). At the day, we wash in a roadside market plus make some shopping.

Day 5.

The weather is fine, but the alpine mountains deprive us of all energy and we are too tired to enjoy the views but save enough energy to take a lot of photos in order to admire them once we are back at home – fresh and well rested. We are heading for Leoben. At the end of the day we decide to climb a small mountain. The Germans who are passing us give us this strange look and shout: Viel Spass! Soon we find out the source of their surprise. We are riding over an enormous bridge which is 4 kilometers long and the grade is 12%. Frankly speaking onlyWojtek and Sławek reach the top on their bicycles, Piotr is mostly walking than riding is bicycle, he simply wants to save strength and energy for the rest of our journey. We reach the top at about 11 o’clock pm and we are all happy plus as a reward we manage to find a place for the night really quickly.

Day 6.

We are riding down this small hill in the morning and we do not have to even touch the pedals for 25 kilometers and the speed does not go below 35 km/h. Then, as usually in the mountains, we have to pay back and climb another mountain, luckily none of them resembles the one we had to struggle with last night, but simply this is the spirit of Austria. We go to Klagenfurt, but following the advice of two Austrian cyclists we change our route and choose the easier one. We give a book for each them, just as a souvenir and as a way of gratitude for their help. They are surprised and really glad. We ask a family for some hot water and we get a tourist gas cylinder. We spend the night in a parking lot with a toilet and drinking water, and the views are really magnificent.

Day 7.

This day begins with a 20  kilometers long climbing, the road has lots of bends and leads to border in Edelsberg. We reach 1280 meters above the sea level. We pass the border without any problems and ride down the hill at a crazy speed and reach the town of Kranj. Slovenia is a really beautiful country. We really feel like in Poland due to wonderful roads and perfectly hidden road signs. Even the language is similar. I am under the impression of the beauty of those little mountain towns, all of them are built in an old-fashioned style, many of the houses are in poor condition. Slovenia definitely is not a rich country but its beauty and atmosphere cannot be neglected.

Day 8.

We are hurrying to the border with Croatia, once we get there we are passing all the cars waiting to cross the border in one kilometer long line. It has taken us 7.5 days to get here. We all are smiling, we are simply glad and happy, all that together gives us even more energy. We no longer are feeling any pain in our backs, buttocks and knees. Next, our destination is a Croatian tourist resort – Opatija. We are passing huge traffic jams, eventually we get there at about noon. We are enjoying everything we can, we are swimming, sunbathing, simply relaxing. We set up our tents away from any camping sites and then go to an Internet Café to contact our families. Wojtekis keeping eye on our stuff and writing to his friends at the same time. Tourist information is of the highest quality in this town.

Day 9.

We are riding over a gigantic bridge in order to get to the KRK Island. The car drivers must pay toll – 20 PLN, but the cyclists are those whose are privileged here, and can cross the bridge for free. We take a break to catch some breath and take some photos of this impressive construction. Then we are heading towards the water, to get a bath. The beach is full of stones but the water is hot, this is exactly different than in Poland, where beaches are pure sand but the water is cold. We are sightseeing small towns and sending postcards to our friends, and then we leave the island. As usually, we set up our tents just anywhere.

Day 10.

Today, officially, our return home begins. The sun is high, the sky is clear and the temperature is 35 centigrade in shade. We manage to ride 174 kilometers today, and this is a record of the daily distance. We are spending our last money and buy such provisions as food, so that we have enough to reach Austria. We are sleeping in a corn field, somewhere close to town of Kranj.

Day 11.

We get up early in the morning, Wojtek has a flat tire, he quickly fixes the problem and then we go our way again. Today we enter Austria again. In Wolfsberg a railway man takes us through narrow streets to the station. We take a bus to Zeltweg, the bus to Linz leaves the next day. To our great surprise the railway man offers us his tied accommodation. For the very first time, for the last few days, we have had a decent bath.

Day 12.

We wake up with the sun and it turns out that we are locked! A person walking down the street helps us to find the keys. We manage to get to Linz and then to Ceske Budejovice, there is one more mountain climb and finally we stop for the night. We pitch our tents just in a field.

Day 13.

He are heading towards Cesky Brod and sleep there. People give us cucumbers, tomatoes and hot water, they are telling us about the Olympic Games, unfortunately the do not mention any Poles. They wish us good luck. The idea that our homes are so near cheers us up.

Day 14.

Today we are entering our homeland. There are the last few mountains to climb, not difficult except for a one. We eat chocolates and milk bars that we have bought in one of Lidl discount stores. Sławek gets really powerful dose of energy so that we get him at the border in Habartice-Zawidów. Now, we are in Poland. We decide to head forZgorzelec and make a camp near to Koźmin – a small village only 10 kilometers away from ZgorzelecPiotrmisses his girlfriend and is ready to continue the journey but Wojtek and Sławek suggest to stop for the night for the last time. We are having hot supper and then go to sleep.

Day 15.

We are on our way to Lubsko, there is only 120 kilometers to go, this stage is completely flat, the weather is the same as the one we had on the first day of our journey, it is poor. But that is nothing. The most important is the fact that we are in good shape and nothing bad has happened and we are still going ahead. Today we are riding at moderate speed we do not need to hurry, we are going to get there anyway. It takes us an hour to get to the German side, there using bicycle roads are going to Przewóz to cross the border for the last time. It is only 40 kilomters to go from Przewóz.  Sławek makes a long call home. To our greatest surprise, somewhere near toDrożków two cars stop and just a while later our beloved ones appear, they stretch ribbon as in a finish line, then, there are tears of joy and hugs, congratulations and many thanks. They give us tons of fruits. Of course there are lots of photos taken. They leave after some time and we get back on our bikes and go. Seeing our families gave us another lease of life, more energy. Wojtek forgets about the pain in his knees and decides to set the pace. Only this day the average speed exceeds 20 km/h. We take last photos at the road sign Welcome to Lubsko, and then there is only pure happiness of our success.