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Monday, 1 August 2011

A hard rain is gonna fall

Dushan came by in the morning and then we rode together to the town center to drink a coffee together. He gave me his contact info and offered me the house again on my return journey. I set of toward the south, destination Novy Sad, Belgrade, Romania and beyond. Upon leaving the town sign indicated a bike path to the next village, located 10 km down the road. It is paved and I decide to take it. It leads me through quiet fields and a few farms. There were no cars and no other cyclists. Unfortunately after about 45 minutes the trail simply stopped in a mud field. No further indication and no explanation. I guess I am now more accustomed to such occurances because I take it in stride and simply turn back. This extra 20 kms or so of riding probably means I won’t make Novy Sad that evening, or if I do manage it, my arrival will be late. In any case, it is not raining so I try to enjoy the quiet of the countryside.

In the afternoon I stopped in the town of Odzaci, bought fresh vegetables, cheese and cold beer and had a picnic in front of the town hall. It was a Sunday and very quiet. The lunch was delicious, the beer cold and the siesta after lunch very deep. Groggy after the deep sleep on the bench I walked across the street to eat an ice cream and talked to three men about 60 years of age, who found me to be absolutely mad for the trip I am undertaking. It is understandable though. Such people have lived most of their lives in the pre-globalisation era, which I consider having begun with the internet age, about 1995/1996. Before that time the world was completely different, people lived with at most one quarter of the information we have today. In fact, about 10 years ago I read a study that concluded that in 2001 the average person received more information in the course of one day than his or her grandparents received in an entire lifetime. That is hard to believe, but if it is even remotely correct, it is a frightening change of circumstances. These men, when they were my age, had to deal with working to support families, the breakup of Yugoslavia into 6 different countries, the various wars that were associated with that, real survival struggles. The idea to ride a bike for months would be extremely unusual to them.

As an aside, for this reason I love to read of adventures undertaken prior to our modern era. Even trips taken in the 1970s and 1980s, when the world was still considered a ‘closed’ place appeal to me far more than anything done today. Years ago I worked with a man, traveling with a friend, left Bern in 1973 in a VW van destination Sydney. Over a year long they traveled through Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia and then putting the van on a boat to Perth and then drove cross-country to Sydney. I used to listen to his stories at every opportunity.

In the afternoon I turned on my iPod and listening to Ewan McGregor’s adventure in “Long Way Round”. It is a story I have already heard many times and each time it starts the wheels rolling on my future motorbike tour of Russia and the former USSR. It also makes me fondly remember the long European tours I made in the past on my big BMW 1100. Those were great times. Very different times than now, and great for what they were. McGregor and his mate, Charley Boorman, tell a captivating story of their big adventure. For my taste, however, they did it too quickly and with too much support. The idea of coordinating with a support team and having to follow a tight schedule would lessen the adventure. I am thinking of who could or would like to do such an adventure with me. I don't know that many adventurous people. If anybody reading this has a suggestion, I am very interested in hearing it. 

In the late afternoon I arrive in Backa Palanca, which lies directly on the Danube, with Croatia on the other side. This part of Serbia is very flat and as I ride into town I see the beautiful hills of Croatia on the other side of the river. They look very inviting but as a cyclist, I am glad for the flats. The weather was again questionable and I was thinking of pushing it the last 40 kms to Novy Sad and finding shelter there. The next day I have the UN lawyer exam and at 14.30 I must be in front of my computer, online and ready to go. Some legal texts to review in preparation for the exam had been sent by email on Friday and I still had those to review. For these reasons I have basically decided to head to Novy Sad when I pass a group of cyclists, loaded for bear. They call out to me, I turn around and we chat. They are all from Bruxelles and two of them are on a 10-day tour Budapest to Belgrad and the other two on tour Budapest to Mongolia! That was a story not to miss, so we decide to camp together in that town at the river. 

We found a nice place, pitch tents and go for a beer. Because the weather was really looking bad, Olivier and I tied a large plastic tarp over my tent, doubled it over and tied it down again. We cooked a big dinner together and talked about our tours. The Mongolia-bound couple had recently married and are taking a year off to travel and as they joked "test if the marriage will work". In Belgium it is apparently possible for anyone to take a one year, partially-paid sabbatical at some point in life and they were taking advantage of this gracious opportunity so long as it still exists. We had a great dinner and conversation and as the rain started to fall, all retired to our own tents.

That night was a disaster. The wind had picked up intensely and by the time it had woken me, had pulled the tent stakes on the windward side out of the ground. The tent pole that had broken in the storm in Austria and which I had subsequently repaired, had obviously broken again because the tent was no longer in a tent-shape. From outside it must have looked more like a bag anchored down by something heavy, which was my body. Had I not been in it I am certain that it would have blown away. My solution was to take the four bags from the bike, which I had brought inside, and place one in each corner as an anchor. Then I sat up – in the water that had collected inside mind you – and lean against the windward side and hold my arm out to the side in an effort to give the tent some support against the wind. I was not so worried about saving the tent because by then I had decided that this rubbish tent is not carrying on with me, but I did not want to lose the tarp that was tied to the tent. By leaning back I could hold the tent in place and give it some resistance to the wind. Within an hour the storm had passed and I could lie back down and sleep. It was wet in the tent and in the bag, but I did manage to sleep. In the morning it was still raining but not storming. We all awoke and began packing gear, which in the rain is really uncomfortable. I had to hurry off to arrive in Novy Sad at a decent hour, get a shower and find an internet cafĂ©. The tent went into the nearest rubbish bin, the Belgians and I parted with adieu and bon route and I was off toward Novy Sad in the rain.

1 comment:

  1. Hey hey!
    I just read your post! Finally have some time to read this... I'll mail you later!

    Geoff (Belgian couple to Mongolia)