Left Zakopane in the morning, set course for the Tatra Mountains and Slovakia. With high expectations for mountain road crossing that actually never took place.
Tatra Mountains have few roads
Much fewer than expected. In fact, almost none near Zakopane. Might be different further east. Whereas one elsewhere in Europe or Scandinavia, can choose between several roads or passes when crossing mountains, not so in the Tatras. The few that exists are packed, especially during summer, and especially on the Polish side.
The roads run in valleys, along ravines or lower altitude passages. The day begun as the previous day ended, miles upon miles of traffic jam. This took my attention away from the surroundings, only wanted to get past it as fast as possible. Although there were no direct mountain crossing the road went up and down through dense woods, that partially opened up into deep valleys.
Into Slovakia, pace down
Most of the traffic towards the Polish border was people on the way to starting points for hiking. Crossing the border and entering Slovakia the traffic immediately began to die down. Could sense I was in a smaller country, with a smaller population. A few miles in I was almost alone on the road, oh joy!
Oh not so joy, the road led me alongside the mountains but also further away from where i wanted to be. I saw no options for detours, or very few. Neither my GPS nor Google maps were very helpful. A hard copy of EU wasn’t very illuminating either.
As a result I decided to continue along the Tatra mountains westwards. Tried a few small roads, all of which were dead ends. It did occur to me that the best would have been to stop and try to get some info from locals. But the few I asked didn’t speak English at all.
A few trials and failures
I could not get myself to completely abandon all attempts to, somehow, get up towards the mountains. Riding along the main road and looking for alternatives I saw some roads that potentially could lead somewhere exciting. They didn’t.
Fancy schmanzy, but not what I was after. Boldly I chased up another, just to arrive at a toll. A third yielded some promise but the roads faded into a mere track. Being alone I decided it might get too exciting.
I’ve learned a few lessons when riding out on adventures, especially when alone. One is; consider safety, especially important if you’re in unfamiliar places, or if the going gets (too) tough. There’s no shame in turning around.
Towards & across lowlands
I stayed on the road that ran along the Tatra Mountains on the north side while the the lower part of Slovakia opened up in the south. It had been around an hours worth of riding this far, and still no options for a mountain escape route.
I kept on, too early to make a stop for lunch. Plan was to reach across the plains in the south and then consider a rest. As I got lower the temperature was on a steady rise, and the most pleasant seemed to just keep on.
Coming down from the hills I began on a stretch across the valley. All of a sudden I noticed a motorcycle parked roadside up ahead. Stopped and asked if he had some problems, or if everything was ok. Must have sounded pretty muffled inside the helmet, looked like he did not quite get my question so I parked in front of him.
Turned out to be a nice, younger Polish chap who, like me, was on a solo adventure. With figmets or less of a plan, also like me. He’d just made a map stop to check on route options. He’d planned to head south and into Hungary, whereas I was aiming for Austria and the Alps.
We rode together for a while, in pursuit of a lunch stop. I led the way since having GPS with POI (Point Of Interest) option. A most useful feature, makes it possible to ad-hoc plan, if in need of petrol, or a place to eat or stay. After a nice lunch we departed, he on a southern course, me on a western.
Did I mention hot?
The temperature kept on rising steadily the further into the Slovakia I got. Passing 30C I set course for hills and mountains. While riding up a hillside the temperature fell pleasantly. The road ran straight through dense woods, uphill, downhill. A compact canopy gave the sensation of riding in green tunnels.
When hot, try to stay high
in the (physical) altitude sense of the word. Any other form of “highness” is not recommended, when riding a motorbike. There’s more than enough recklessness and dangerous four-wheel pilots out on the road as is.
Thus, safety measures are important, protection is important, and clothing is (ditto) important. All this may quickly lead to using gear making cooling an issue. This being my second EU trip (read about the first here) I was much better prepared than i was last year.
For one thing, the new bike has less wind deflection, yet adequate weather protection. One can also ride standing, helps a lot when in need of “air condition”. A new MC suit of better quality helped tremendously when the temperature went towards and over 30C. There are a few good brands out there. The hard part is to find something that is waterproof, yet breathes.
Flatlands didn’t interest me much, so I kept on picking GPS routes that led me through the higher parts of western Slovakia. With the navigator set on curvy roads while avoiding all larger ones, I went across rolling hills, through farmlands, scattered woods, old villages and passed quite a few medieval castles on hill or mountain tops.
I hadn’t given completely up on finding some interesting gravel roads, tried a few places with mixed results or luck. Sometimes one needs to understand when its time to turn around.
Running out of hills
It had to happen, sooner or later. Coming down from the last hill the temperature continued to climb towards (maybe past) mid 30s. The landscape wasn’t really interesting, mostly farmlands. So I decided to press on towards Bratislava and Austria.
I probably could have made it to Austria that day but staying off the freeways made it more of a challenge. Approaching Bratislava i came through a village, GPS POI suggested a hotel up the road. Checked out ok, even if a bit empty. Having spent over 10 hours on the bike felt it was time make a stop for the night. A all inclusive deal, with a huge room for a wee over EUR50 . So I ate well, had a few local beers and crashed for the night.
The next morning I set course for Austria, and that you can read about sometime soon 🙂